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Stewart brilliant again in championship setting, Storm take inaugural Commissioner’s Cup

Breanna Stewart put on a show for WNBA fans Thursday night as the Seattle Storm routed the Connecticut Sun in the Commissioner’s Cup championship game.

Seattle Storm v Connecticut Sun - 2021 Commissioner’s Cup Championship Game
The Seattle Storm are Commissioner’s Cup champs.
Photo by Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images

The Seattle Storm dominated the inaugural Commissioner’s Cup championship game with early brilliance from the game’s MVP, Breanna Stewart, and an incredible third-quarter run that ensured a 79-57 victory over the Connecticut Sun at Footprint Center in Phoenix on Thursday night.

Each and every Storm player brought home $30,000 compared to the Sun’s $10,000 apiece, with Stewart (17 points, three assists, four steals, three blocks) earning an extra $5,000.

One of the highlights of Stewart’s night was a 3-point make on a heavily contested three that made the score 19-11 Seattle. That was part of her 15-point first quarter that featured a 3:02 stretch where she outscored Connecticut 13-4. With the help of a Mercedes Russell inside make it was a 15-4 run for the Storm overall and brought the score to 26-15. Stewart made a total of three triples and a contested layup on the run.

“The frustrating thing for us was we weren’t going to leave her tonight,” Sun head coach Curt Miller said. “We were going to sacrifice at times maybe some actions that could hurt you, but we just weren’t going to leave her. So when she’s having that kind of a night and you know that you’re not leaving her, it’s deflating.”

“As a teammate of Stewie’s watching her in the group, I was amazed,” Storm head coach Noelle Quinn said. “We see it every day. You understand why she plays the way she plays, and as a coach, to me, it’s the same, it’s just another level that she gets to mentally that I think differentiates her from a lot of other great players that I’ve played with, and obviously that’s a characteristic of the best players in our league — that mental focus. When Stewie sets her mind on something, it’s amazing the outcome, and good, bad, indifferent, she always gives her all, and to me, as a savant of basketball, a fan of basketball, not her coach, not her former teammate, I think it’s amazing to watch her play.”

Powerful words from Quinn given her first chance to speak on Stewart winning a championship for her as a coach and Stewart certainly did it in vintage Stewie fashion like she did when she was named WNBA Finals MVP in 2018 and 2020 and Olympic MVP less than a week ago. She is also the only player to ever win four NCAA Tournament MOP awards.

In spite of all of Stewart’s heroics, the Sun trailed by just five with 4:50 to play in the second and would have cut their deficit to eight at the break had DeWanna Bonner’s half court make just after the buzzer counted. It wasn’t until the Storm won the third 22-5 that the game was truly out of reach.

Seattle scored the first eight points out of the break with four coming from Sue Bird, who ended the second with a trey. The Storm went on to lead by as many as 31 and Bird finished with 10 points and five assists. The third member of Seattle’s big three, Jewell Loyd, notched 16 points and three assists. The three Storm players who played six Olympic games en route to gold led the way.

“That team knows how to put it together and they have championship mentality,” Bonner said of the Storm. “For me this game was like a championship mentality. It’s one game, you win the money, and it just takes a different type of mentality to play in these games, and they have it right now. We are still trying to figure it out, so hopefully we can figure it out before — well, this next half of the season.”

MVP candidate Jonquel Jones had 10 points and 11 rebounds in defeat, while Natisha Hiedeman had a solid game off the bench for Connecticut with 11 points and five boards.

Seattle grabbed 14 steals and forced 26 Connecticut turnovers.

“The feeling is to get our behind back in the gym and work on the things we need to work on to be successful moving forward,” Jones said. “Ten grand, we are not thinking about that right now because quite frankly we were outplayed tonight and we got to get back to the drawing board because our mission is to win a championship and the way we played tonight is not going to do that, so we need to get back to work.”