Five keys for the Seattle Storm in the WNBA Finals
A look at what the Storm need to do to emerge as champions
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Las Vegas Aces v Seattle Storm PALMETTO, FL - SEPTEMBER 13: Jordin Canada of the Seattle Storm drives to the basket during the game against the Las Vegas Aces on September 13, 2020 at Feld Entertainment Center in Palmetto, Florida. (Photo by Stephen Gosling/NBAEvia Getty Images)
Friday is the beginning of Game 1 of the WNBA Finals. To little surprise, the Seattle Storm meet the Las Vegas Aces in a battle of the league’s top-seeded teams. This is a promising matchup and one that should be can’t-miss for basketball fans everywhere.
While the Aces swept the regular season series with the Storm, it’s important to point out a few things. Most notably, that it’s difficult to beat any team five consecutive times in a season. Either team sweeping the other would be an all-time shocker in league history. Both of these teams are too good for a short series.
A marquee matchup
Both teams are loaded with talent, but you don’t need to look far for the most enthralling figures. Breanna Stewart and A’ja Wilson are two of the WNBA’s best young stars and two of the last three MVPs.
Stewart missed the final meeting but Stewart-Wilson looked like a main event in their August matchup. Stewart posted 29 points, 18 rebounds and two assists to Wilson’s 23 points, 14 rebounds and two assists. With the stakes heightened, these two could leave us with some even more memorable performances.
What’s interesting is what happens when they defend each other. Both players are a taxing defensive assignment. However, the times Stewart was able to pull Wilson and her rebounding out of the paint left the Storm with more room inside. The interior is likely where this series is decided.
“What about the Aces not shooting three-pointers?” you might be asking. Speaking of outside shooting…
The three-pointer isn’t everything
It’s easy to look at this matchup and think Seattle has an edge because of their shooting. The Storm shot the seventh-most treys per game while the Aces shot the fewest by far. Seattle also had the second-best three-point efficiency and were 0.5 points away from most efficient.
Yet, that didn’t matter a lot in their regular-season meetings. Seattle shot 7-for-26 to the Aces 2-for-11 in the first matchup. Normally, a 15-point advantage from beyond the arc should give you an advantage, but the Aces won that game by eight.
Both teams shot above 40 percent from deep in the rematch. That’s not surprising. The Aces had above-average three-point efficiency, albeit on low volume, in the regular season. Oh, and the Storm lost that game too.
Seattle’s efficiency from beyond the arc is impressive with their volume. Their roster has many outside threats, but will be down one option with Sami Whitcomb leaving the Wubble for the birth of her child.
Shooting is key for this Storm team, but it won’t be everything. After all, the Storm’s shooting, good or bad, has been indicative of their overall offensive health in the regular season. Making shots usually means they’re creating good looks and good looks happen when they can play their game.
Expect defense…lots of defense
Both teams have players who can defend multiple positions with their size and athleticism. Unsurprisingly, both teams had impressive defensive ratings. With 100 regarded as average, both the Aces and Storm had defensive efficiency in the 90s. This was true in the regular and postseason.
Each Storm loss to the Aces was by single digits with the final meeting a one-possession defeat. This amounts to a coin flip. One defensive stop or missed shot could have swung the outcome of that game.
Where the Storm struggled defending the Aces was in the paint.
In their first meeting, the Aces outscored the Storm in the paint 42-32 and 8-4 in transition. These factors negated any edge Seattle had from their shooting and that’s why shooting alone won’t be enough. Seattle did defend the paint a little better in their second matchup, but were still outscored 38-32.
A big reason for the Aces paint dominance was their ability to get to the rim, especially off turnovers.
Seattle allowed 18 and 12 points off their turnovers in their regular season matchups. In those games, the Storm committed 14 and 12 turnovers that allowed the Aces to push the ball up court and exploit mismatches in transition for easy buckets. Of course, the Storm could have had better positioning but committing fewer turnovers is even better.
Second-chance points make a difference
It goes without saying earning extra possessions and scoring points from them is beneficial, but the Storm were at their best against the Aces. Seattle was outscored 17-4 and shot just 1-for-6 on second-chance opportunities in the first matchup. Meanwhile, Las Vegas shot 7-for-8 thanks to a 10-rebound advantage.
The Storm were better on the glass in the rematch and nearly won the game. Seattle was outrebounded by only two this time and edged their opponent 13-5 in second-chance points. Having three more opportunities was another superlative.
It’s very difficult to assess why the Storm were so inconsistent against the Aces. Maybe because the Aces were the best rebounding team in the league this season. Keeping them off the boards is difficult, even for a team with as much size as Seattle.
At times, it seemed the Storm weren’t playing like a team that cared a lot about the Aces taking the top seed from them. Their effort on the defensive glass could have been better at times, just like their interior defense. Seattle has to keep Las Vegas off the offensive glass and out of the paint.
That’s going to require a greater effort than what we saw in the regular season. You can afford those lapses then, but those same miscues can cost a team a championship in the Finals.
Sue Bird hasn’t played the Aces this season
Of course, attempting to extrapolate anything from the regular season is difficult since Sue Bird missed both regular season meetings. The future Hall of Famer is still a productive player and one that impacts the opposition’s defensive approach.
Seattle will likely need four or five games of strong play from Bird if they want to win this series. Bird’s playmaking and shot making abilities are valuable weapons in their offensive arsenal and she still makes this team better.
Where the Storm need help is against Aces guard Danielle Robinson. Robinson broke down Seattle’s defense with her blazing speed and got to the rim with ease. Seattle can’t have this trend continue. They can live with her outside shooting, but she’d much prefer to get to the rim.
Bird’s contributions will be more essential without Whitcomb as their emergency point guard. Epiphanny Prince can fill this role for small stretches, but that’s not her bread and butter. Ideally, the Storm can continue relying on their platoon of Bird and Jordin Canada.
We (probably) couldn’t ask for a better matchup
This is the way a championship series is supposed to be: the two best teams going head-to-head. There is no shortage of storylines and star power. As weird as this season has been, at least we get a premium matchup like this one.