2018 WNBA Finals: Looking Back and Looking Ahead to Game 3

The Storm survived to win in Game 2. Can the Mystics rally in Game 3 to keep their title hopes alive?

Sunday afternoon at KeyArena was a wild affair. It was a beautiful late summer day in downtown Seattle, and the Storm Crazies came out in full force to watch their team try to take a 2-0 series lead against the Mystics before the series shifts to D.C. for two games. WNBA.com reported that the attendance was 14,212, about double the usual number of fans during the regular season. It may well be the final basketball game ever played in KeyArena, as renovation and demolition is almost certain to occur in the next couple of years. Barring a Game 5 finale that will bring the series back to Seattle, it was a fitting farewell to the building that has had so many great events for the past 56 years. The Storm came out strong in the first quarter, with Stewart putting up 11 points and Seattle taking a 25-16 lead into the second quarter. The second quarter, however, was a completely different story. Seattle fell apart on both ends of the floor and the Mystics outscored the Storm 24-11 behind double-digit scoring by Elena Delle Donne and Kristi Toliver to take a 46-40 lead into halftime.

The second half was near chaos for both teams, as the game devolved into a nerve-racking spectacle of sloppy play, questionable officiating, and at times simply poor offense. Every time you thought the Storm were going to take the game over for good, a bad pass, a turnover in transition, or a bad foul down in the paint had a lot of fans in the arena worried. Nerves seemed to affect the Storm's collective play, and despite out-rebounding the Mystics 35 to 26, strong play from Hines-Allen off the bench and 15 points from standout rookie Ariel Atkins kept the Mystics in the game. 15 turnovers for the Storm and going 17-26 from the free throw line really made things more competitive as the third and fourth quarters wore on. Delle Donne improved upon her Game 1 performance, and scored a team-high 17 points, while Toliver and Atkins put up 15 points each. For Seattle, Natasha Howard was great on the glass, pulling down 13 rebounds, however, she struggled offensively, only scoring 8 points. Jewell Loyd was up and down throughout the game, but was the only Storm player besides Stewart in double figures with 13 points, 4 assists, and 4 rebounds. Sue Bird and Alysha Clark had quieter games, and they both put up 8 and 9 points respectively. Sami Whitcomb and Jordin Canada came in off the bench and together contributed 11 points during a solid 19 minutes combined off the bench.

The officiating was in reality all over the place, and the Mystics really felt like they got cheated on a number of plays, especially late in the game. Both teams' offensive plan in the second half was to simply pound the ball inside and hope to get a shooting foul called, and for both teams, it worked. The Mystics had no choice but to take the ball inside as they missed all sixteen 3-pointers that they attempted. At the start of the fourth quarter, a 7-0 run saw Seattle regain the lead at the start of the fourth quarter. With strong defense by Seattle, a miracle 3-pointer as the shot clock expired by Sue Bird, and a game-high 25 points and 7 rebounds from MVP Breanna Stewart, the Storm held on for the win 75-73. And with the close win, Seattle keeps their home court winning streak going, as they have never lost at KeyArena in the WNBA Finals. But will the winning continue as the series shifts to the nation's capital?

When you look ahead to Game 3 in D.C., you have to first talk about Elena Delle Donne. She was far more aggressive and effective in Game 2, scoring 7 more points than in Game 1 and outscoring the entire Storm roster by herself in the second quarter 12 to 11. She looks stronger and more mobile with her left knee, and she looks ready and motivated to have an even bigger, better game at home. Her leadership and poise on both ends of the floor will likely be as strong as ever as well, so I expect her to lead the team in scoring in a big way. Kristi Toliver was only so-so until late in the game on Sunday, as she put up some clutch points that almost won the Mystics the game. I would expect her anger about the officiating in Game 2 to really push her to score a whole bunch of points, so look for her in Game 3 to get out of the slump she has been in during many of the Mystics playoff games so far. Ariel Atkins will likewise be just as ready to get a win in this series as she has been Washington's second or even arguably their best player so far this postseason. Natasha Cloud and LaToya Sanders will also really need to step up their play if they want to break through the Storm's defense to get a win.

The Storm looked vulnerable during long stretches in Game 2. Their youth and inexperience at the Finals level really seemed to push them into some very sloppy play offensively. If the Mystics can slow the game down and force Seattle to make the same kind of mistakes they made in Game 2, don't be surprised if the Mystics make the adjustments they need to make on offense to get a win to stave off being eliminated and keeping the Storm from claiming a title on the road. Seattle has been the better team this season, but despite being down 2-0 in this series, Washington has shown that they can hang with the Storm and deserve to be here in the Finals. If Delle Donne's knee continues to heal with time, if the rest of the team can show up and score points, and if they can continue to turn up the defensive pressure, especially on Loyd and Howard, they have a very good chance at extending this series to at least four games, if not five. If the Storm come out weak to start Game 3 like they did in the second quarter of Game 2, I expect the Mystics to pounce on them hard and fast, and with the home crowd behind them, I expect them to get a win.

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