The Connecticut Sun and Seattle Storm meet in the inaugural Commissioner’s Cup championship game in Phoenix on Thursday at 9 p.m. ET (Amazon Prime). Here is Part II of our preview, focusing on the Storm.
Seven members of the Seattle Storm won the WNBA championship last year. Five of them have won two championships together, with the other coming in 2018. They are no stranger to to concept and have a chance to add to their trophy case by winning the first-ever Commissioner’s Cup.
The cup championship game of course comes after a long layoff, the Olympic break, but two-time champion point guard Jordin Canada believes the Storm are going to be ready.
“Honestly, this team knows each other,” Canada said when asked if she thought it would take a few games to rebuild the chemistry of a 16-5 first-place team. “I think it’s just about getting our game wind back together since we’ve been off for a month. I mean the people that have been here we’ve been doing a great job of skill development and making sure we’re flowing as a second group.”
Canada and fellow two-time champ, center Mercedes Russell, are thinking that the rust will be there, but not for too long.
“Honestly I feel like the first four minutes might get us just cuz we’ve been obviously off for a month,” Russell said. “But it’ll be nice just to be back in game speed, game mode. And for it to be the first cup of obviously the WNBA is also exciting.”
Some of the Storm actually haven’t been off for a month. Breanna Stewart, Jewell Loyd and Sue Bird won gold with Team USA in Tokyo and Stephanie Talbot and Ezi Magbegor also played in the Olympics, as representatives of the Australian National Team.
Stewart, Loyd and Bird comprise Seattle’s “big three,” and their exploits this year have been well-documented. However, defeating the Connecticut Sun on Thursday night could come down to other key contributors stepping up, such as Canada, Russell and Katie Lou Samuelson.
Canada is a top-notch back-up point guard known for her speed. She can provide a boost on defense and could always rattle off some big assist or even scoring numbers. However, elite backcourt defenders Briann January and Jasmine Thomas will be trying to disrupt her flow.
“I think for me it’s just slowing down and being patient and not really rushing and seeing opportunities where I can drive, seeing opportunities where I can shoot or drive and kick,” Canada said. “I think with defenders like that you have to punch first, you have to be aggressive first. But it’s also about taking the opportunities where you see fit and also not necessarily thinking you have to do the same thing over and over or assuming that I’m going to do something. Because they’re such great defenders and so you really have to be patient with players like that, but also be aggressive as well.”
For Russell, the challenge will be trying to box out against the second-best rebounding team in the WNBA.
“Limiting their opportunities is always important when you’re playing one of the best rebounding teams,” Russell said. “And as a team I think we did a good job of that in both games (against the Sun) so we’re gonna have to a good job of that on Thursday night also.”
For Samuelson, Thursday night will be an opportunity for her to claim a championship during the break in place of winning gold with the 3x3 USA team. She was supposed to be a member of that roster, but tested positive for COVID and had to miss the Olympics.
“For me, the humanistic quality in me, I felt for her,” said Storm head coach Noelle Quinn. “And I just wanted to make sure she was OK. I didn’t care about the basketball, I didn’t care about her coming back to Seattle. I didn’t want to know any of that other than that she was OK. And just making sure that she was in a good heart and mind space.”
Samuelson was acquired by Seattle this past offseason (along with a 2022 second-round pick) in exchange for the No. 1 pick in the 2021 WNBA Draft which it had received from the New York Liberty. She was brought in to be the fourth-best player on the team and help out the big three. Could the Commissioner’s Cup be a pivotal moment for her to step up her play for the remainder of the season?
“She took good care of herself back at home and when she was able to step back on the court with us, she’s looked amazing, she’s looked dynamic,” Quinn said of Samuelson. “Shot’s flowing, understanding what we want her to do, very confident and things of that nature. So I think this is going to be just like the reset and refreshment that she may need to just kind of get her mind moving forward in a good way and in a good space that we need her to be in for us to be successful as a team.”
This biggest thing standing in the Storm’s way is MVP candidate Jonquel Jones. Connecticut head coach Curt Miller had high praise for Seattle’s big three at the Sun’s Monday press conference and Quinn returned the respect.
“Jonquel’s a tough matchup because she presents scoring at three different levels,” she said. “She can score around the rim, she can score in that mid-range area, turnaround jumpers, and she has an ability to hit the 3-point shot. Also you look at what she does defensively, blocking shots, being long and lengthy. She is an elite player and a player that impacts the game on both sides of the floor. And you think about all the great players in our league and ‘how do you stop this player?’ There’s no stopping these elite players. The goal is trying to contain them, trying to get them off their sweet spots and kind of just hoping that that night isn't their night.
You can tell that she has gotten better every single year. She is the heart of that team as far as just her presence, being able to go get you a bucket when needed, being able to get you a stop when needed, go get a rebound when needed. She presents a matchup nightmare. And our approach is to obviously understand where her strengths are, try to limit those strengths, send bodies, show bodies at her. Pressure her a little bit more, get her off of the 3-point line, defend her without fouling. But I think she’s done an amazing job for Connecticut.”
J. Jones, DeWanna Bonner and Brionna Jones, the Sun’s three All-Stars, will present a challenge, but one thing is for sure: the defending champs will be businesslike.
“Obviously this is the first Commissioner’s Cup and it’s an honor to be a part of something special and to be one of the first teams to be a part of this,” Canada said. “But I think at the same time we’re just treating it like another game.”
Noelle Quinn extended
Last Thursday the Storm announced that Quinn will be staying on as the permanent head coach and for multiple years. Early this season, she took over on an interim basis for 2018 championship-winning head coach Dan Hughes, who retired.
“I’m super, super honored and super grateful and every day I will walk in a way to honor the people who have set the tone and set the stage for me to be here,” Quinn said.