The Seattle Storm have the advantage of having faced one of the big five teams in the WNBA in the first round. Now, only four of those teams remain and the other three faced far weaker first-round opponents than the Washington Mystics, though only the Las Vegas Aces were able to mimic the Storm by sweeping.
The Storm now face the Aces in the semifinals and while they are battle-tested, they will be the underdogs after being slight favorites against the Mystics. It’s going to take a special effort to keep Sue Bird’s final flight going into the Finals.
Here’s a preview of the series from the Storm’s perspective. For a preview from the Aces’ perspective, click below:
Game 1: Seattle at Las Vegas, Sunday, Aug. 28 at 1 p.m. PT, ESPN
Game 2: Seattle at Las Vegas, Wednesday, Aug. 31 at 7 p.m. PT, ESPN2
Game 3: Las Vegas at Seattle, Sunday, Sept. 4 at 12 p.m. PT, ABC
Game 4 (if necessary): Las Vegas at Seattle, Tuesday, Sept. 6, ESPN2 (Time TBD)
Game 5 (if necessary): Seattle at Las Vegas, Thursday, Sept. 8, ESPN2 (Time TBD)
Regular-season series (Aces won 3-1)
May 8 in Las Vegas: Aces 85, Storm 74
Riquna Williams did not play in this game and Tina Charles was not yet with the Storm.
The Aces trailed by one entering the fourth, but won the final frame by 12. A’ja Wilson had 20 points and 15 rebounds and Dearica Hamby had 10 and 19. Kelsey Plum added 18 points and seven assists while Jackie Young had 19 and three and Chelsea Gray had 12 and four.
Breanna Stewart had 21 points and eight rebounds and Jewell Loyd had 19 points. Sue Bird was held to three points but dished out seven assists.
The Aces won field goal percentage 44.8 to 35.5. The Storm and Aces both take a lot of threes; in this game the Storm took 16 more and made just four more. Vegas got to the line for 11 more free throws and made nine more. It also won rebounding 45-30 and points in the paint 42-16.
June 29 in Seattle: Storm 88, Aces 78
Both teams were at full strength.
The Storm closed the game on a 19-6 run. Loyd finished with 24 points and four assists. Bird added 13 points and six helpers while Stewart had 14 points and seven rebounds and Stephanie Talbot was good for 15 points.
Wilson notched 17 points and 16 boards, leading Vegas in both categories. Jackie Young added 13 points, eight boards and five assists, while Chelsea Gray was good for 10 points, five rebounds and eight helpers.
Seattle won field goal percentage 44.3 to 39.7 and 3-point percentage 48.3 to 37.5 (14 made threes to nine). Vegas won rebounding 40-33, offensive rebounds 11-5 and second chance points 13-0, but turned the ball over 20 times and lost that margin by seven.
Aug. 7 in Seattle: Aces 89, Strom 81
Everyone was available for both sides except for Mercedes Russell (Storm).
It was close throughout with the Aces leading for most of the game. Wilson had 29 points and six rebounds. Gray added 15 points, six boards and nine assists while Young had 15 points and six helpers and Plum was good for 16 points and four helpers.
Stewart gave Vegas a run for its money with 35 points and 10 boards. Tina Charles added 19 points, nine rebounds, three assists and two blocks while Sue Bird had nine points and six helpers and Gabby Williams was good for six points, six boards and six helpers. Stewart was 11-of-15 at the line and 4-of-5 from three. Loyd was held to just one point on 0-of-6 shooting from the field.
The Aces won field goal percentage 46.1 to 43.9 and turned the ball over just six times, winning that margin by eight.
Aug. 14 in Las Vegas: Aces 109, Storm 100
The Aces were missing Hamby in this game.
The Storm led for almost the entire second and third quarters before the Aces won the fourth by seven. Gray was phenomenal with a career-high 33 points, seven rebounds and nine assists. She was 10-of-15 from the field and 11-of-11 from the stripe. Wilson added 25 points, 10 boards, five helpers and two steals while Plum was good for 23 points, four assists and two steals.
Loyd also achieved a career high with 38 points on 8-of-14 shooting from downtown. Stewart added 21 points, 15 rebounds and four assists while Bird was good for six points and seven helpers.
Vegas won field goal percentage 55.7 to 46.3 but Seattle made 18 threes (seven more than the Aces) at a very good 45-percent clip. The Aces attempted 17 more free throws, making 14 more. The Storm won the rebounding margin by seven but lost the turnover margin by the same amount, turning it over 18 times.
Four great games for Wilson; she averaged 22.8 points and 11.8 rebounds. She could be the key to the Aces winning the semifinal series. Interesting that the Storm didn’t get blown out in any of these games, even in the first one when they shot 35.5 percent from the field and lost the rebounding battle by 15. The Aces may be the favorites, but if the Storm can keep all the games close, they have the weapons and experience needed to perform in crunch time.
What Seattle needs from its stars
Her season low in scoring is 12 and her career postseason low is 15. Hard to see her not putting up 20-plus in every game of the series if she’s at her best and at least something in the high teens if she’s not. The Storm need her to take out the intimidation factor of facing the No. 1 seed and remind the team, through her play, that they have her, the best player in the world, and that that makes them the intimidating one. In the moments she’s guarding or being guarded by A’ja Wilson, that matchup will obviously be particularly important.
Loyd can’t disappear like she did when she had one point in Bird’s final regular-season home game, which was against the Aces. At the same time, she doesn’t have to score 30. The Storm really need a good chunk of scoring from her and for her to threaten at all three levels. She’ll also need to show up on defense against the Vegas backcourt.
The Storm need Charles for rebounding and as someone to get the ball to for an easy two when the offense is in a lull. Some felt Seattle was good enough without Charles to be a championship team. But both the 2018 and 2020 teams had Natasha Howard as a fourth star and Seattle’s regular-season winning percentage was down this year compared to 2018 and 2020. The Storm may need Charles to be the difference now that it's down to four teams that are very close in talent level.
What more can you ask of Sue Bird? The loyalty to stay with the team her whole career and bring four championships says more than enough. But, just as with Charles, Bird will be need to be that third/fourth star to back up Stewart and Loyd. She has to hit open threes and change the game with her passing, as she always does.
What Seattle needs from its X factors
The Storm need Gabby Williams to be healthy. Concussions are nothing to mess around with. But if she’s good to go, they need her to be high-energy and disruptive on defense. We saw against the Mystics how she can change the whole vibe of a game.
Magbegor just needs to continue having good chemistry with Stewart and the other potential distributors on the team. She’s getting easy layups off the give-and-go and an eight-point night from her makes a dent. Of course, her defense will be huge as well.
Talbot needs to bring toughness and needs to be a threat from beyond the arc. She’s shooting 39.7 percent from three this season and shot 41.5 percent last year. She saw 19 minutes and 33 seconds of playing time in Game 2 against Washington, more than either Briann January or Epiphanny Prince saw in the two games combined. And Jantel Lavender hasn’t played yet in the playoffs.
- Defense (99.7 defensive rating, 3rd)
- 3-point percentage (36.1, T1st)
- Free throw percentage (82.5, 1st)
- Taking care of the ball (12.8 TOV per game, T3rd-least)
- Forcing turnovers (14.4 per game, 3rd)
- Opponent field goal percentage (43.4, 4th)
- Opponent 3-point percentage (32, 1st)
- Defensive discipline (15 FTA allowed per game, 1st-least)
- Getting to the line (15.1 FTA per game, 11th)
- Defensive rebounds allowed (27.9, 11th-least)
Suffered a concussion in Game 2 of the first round and is listed as day-to-day by ESPN.
Yesterday we did not see Gabby Williams practicing with the team but did see her briefly when leaving the facility. From what was gathered, she seems to still be in concussion protocol.— Hunter Hames (@hunter9h) August 27, 2022
The Storm were practicing some new lineups I'm sure we will see more of in her absence.
Mercedes Russell (non-basketball injury)
Russell is out for the remainder of the season as she recovers from a procedure meant to help her with an atypical headache syndrome. Her absence was considered a big deal early in the season as she was expected to be a key player for the team. Charles’ addition has added frontcourt depth.
Hamby’s four weeks of a two-to-four week timeline will be up on Sept. 7, meaning she should be able to play in Game 5 on Sept. 8 in a worst-case-scenario. In a better scenario, she could play sooner. Hamby was an All-Star in each of the past two seasons and is another weapon to get the ball to in transition. Without her, the Aces have four stars instead of five and they need every star they can get with the talent level of all four remaining WNBA teams being sky-high.
The ceiling is extremely high when you add Charles to Stewart and Loyd and Stewart alone being the best player on the floor could sway this series toward a Storm upset. But I really think this is the Aces’ year. Four MVP-caliber performances from Wilson led Vegas to a 3-1 record against Seattle in the regular season. I’ll give the Storm a second win in this series, but I still see the Aces getting to three.
Las Vegas in 5.