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The Seattle Storm have defended their 2020 championship admirably thus far. They possess a 16-5 record that has them in first place at the Olympic break. The outstanding play of their big three (Breanna Stewart, Jewell Loyd and Sue Bird) has paved the way as Loyd and Bird have exceeded expectations while Stewart has been her MVP-level self. They have formed an all-time great trio that has risen to new heights this year, heights worth noting and savoring as we don’t know how much longer we will see them together.
Bird, at age 40, has been doing better in some categories than she’s ever done because of the incredible work she has put in with performance enhancement specialist Susan Borchardt. If age is just a number, we may see Bird ignore it and keep playing beyond this season. But retirement will always be in the conversation with her at this point so it’s worth taking a moment to appreciate her late-career run at a dynasty with a fellow UConn superstar and a mamba, both of whom she has taken under her wing.
The Storm’s big three begins with Stewie, who alone evokes the awe of fans around the globe. She is the best women’s player on the sphere and at age 26 (still not 27, though getting very close!) has more prime WNBA years in front of her than behind her. Her college exploits set precedent as she led the 2013-16 UConn Huskies to the only four-peat in NCAAW history and won Most Outstanding Player all four times. Her skills have grown even stronger at the pro level. She can shoot threes, handle the ball, drive and finish with post moves, all at 6-foot-4. She does it with an agility that at times looks effortless. She was the 2018 WNBA MVP and finished as the runner-up last year after sitting out with a torn Achilles in 2019.
2021 has just been more of the same Stewie.
Stewart opened this season with 28 points and 13 rebounds in a win over the team Seattle beat in last year’s finals, the Las Vegas Aces. Vegas was favored to win the game as it had loaded up on talent in the offseason. Stewart followed with 26 points and 11 rebounds in the second game of the season and went for 36 and 11 with five blocks against Dallas Wings in the fourth contest, a 100-97 overtime win. She has scored in double figures 20 out of 21 times, 20-plus 11 times and 30-plus twice. She’s also recorded a second five-block game.
Stewart has been right there in the MVP discussion, as expected. Though many feel Jonquel Jones may have the edge over her right now and though Tina Charles of the Washington Mystics has a shot at breaking the league’s scoring average record, Stewart is the only player of those three to have played in more than 75 percent (in her case all) of her team’s games and be on a winning team at the same time. She is third in the league in scoring (behind Charles and Jones) at 20.6 points per game and fifth in rebounds per game with 9.6. She’s also fourth in blocks per game with 1.7.
Even if she doesn’t win the MVP award this year, just being in the conversation yet again is further cementing Stewart’s legacy. Remember, Diana Taurasi is considered the GOAT and she has only won the award once.
As great as Stewart has been, the Storm would not be in first place without the efforts of Loyd and Bird. Nobody was picking the Storm to be in first place before the season started and some didn’t have them in second, third or even fourth. That they are currently the best team in the WNBA is a testament to Loyd’s growth and Bird playing like she’s still 25.
Loyd, nicknamed the “Gold Mamba” by the late, great Kobe Bryant, has been more mamba than ever at age 27 in 2021. She is the best shooting guard in the WNBA and brings an illy set of dribbling, driving and finishing moves that make her a dangerous 1-on-1 player.
Stewart may have the highest ceiling in the league when it comes to the scoring column, but as she’s piling up points within the offense, Loyd is always there for creating her own shot on broken plays. The two have co-existed brilliantly this season and the often-overshadowed Loyd deserves her flowers.
Loyd has been most well known this season for her play in crunch time. After making the biggest shot of the 2020 regular season, Loyd has followed with an ultra-clutch 2021.
She made her signature shot of the season, a high-arching three at the buzzer of overtime to defeat the Wings, on June 4. In addition to her clutch performances, Loyd has put up amazing numbers. She scored 20-plus in three of her first four games of the season and was on pace to shatter her career-high scoring average until more recently. That had her in MVP discussions, as if one MVP candidate on the team wasn’t enough. She’s more like a second Batman than a Robin at this point and she’s still averaging an impressive 17.5 points and a career-best 4.2 assists.
Bird is of course still the emotional leader of the team and it was a feel-good story seeing her field goal and 3-point shooting percentages skyrocket to career bests earlier in the season. She has been one of the best 3-point shooters in the WNBA this year (currently seventh at 43.5 percent) and is tied for second with 50 makes. She just hasn’t shown any signs of her overall game slowing down, though her numbers have dipped to 10.9 points and 5.5 assists per game from higher averages earlier in the season.
Bird has also continued to climb the all-time lists, moving into second in 3-pointers made and sixth in points this year. She has been a WNBA fan-favorite for so long, averaging at least 9.8 points and four assists in all 18 of her seasons in the league and winning four championships with the Storm (2004, 2010, 2018 and 2020). She of course played with the legendary Lauren Jackson, who may be the second-best player in WNBA history if not the first, in 2004 and 2010. Now she's going for what most consider to be a sports dynasty (three championships in four years) with Stewart and Loyd. She had the following to say at Storm media day before the season began:
I’m definitely on record saying that ‘you never forget your first,’ so the Storm championship in 2004 will always stand out. But I also understand how hard it is to get back. And that lull between 2010 and 18, I really thought I would never get back. So to have gotten back, to be able to win two times, I think this latter part of my career will also hold a special place. Similar to the first, maybe even more, I don’t know.”
This current stretch that started when Stewart was drafted in 2016 will certainly hold a special place in the hearts of Storm fans and we’ll see if the big three can carve out an even more significant place in WNBA history.