The Seattle Storm are the 2020 W.N.B.A. champions after sweeping the Las Vegas Aces in the best-of-five finals series with a 92-59 victory Tuesday night in Bradenton, Fla.
It is Seattle’s fourth championship, tying a league record shared by the Houston Comets and Minnesota Lynx.
Seattle’s title win caps a W.N.B.A. season like no other. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the league’s 12 teams played a shortened 22-game regular season and playoff slate starting in late July inside a bubble at IMG Academy.
The Storm fulfilled preseason expectations as a favorite to win their second title in three seasons, and fourth in franchise history. That was largely because of the return of the stars Breanna Stewart and Sue Bird, who both missed the 2019 season with injuries.
Stewart won the 2018 Most Valuable Player Award, then ruptured her Achilles’ tendon while playing overseas in April 2019. This year, she returned to dominant form. Her regular-season production — 19.7 points, 8.3 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 1.6 steals and 1.3 blocks per game — were perhaps surpassed only by Las Vegas’s A’ja Wilson, the newly crowned M.V.P.
Bird, the league’s career assists leader, who turns 40 later this month, was in and out of the lineup because of knee issues but brought sharp passing and calm leadership when she played.
Talent, versatility and championship experience extended throughout the Storm roster.
Jewell Loyd, an explosive scoring guard, continued to play like a two-time All-Star. Alysha Clark was a unanimous first-team all-defensive player and is one of the league’s best 3-point shooters. Natasha Howard, last season’s defensive player of the year, and Jordin Canada, who ranked third in assists per game during the regular season, were impressive complementary players.
The roster was managed by Gary Kloppenburg, who stepped in as interim head coach for Dan Hughes. Hughes, who had surgery to remove a cancerous tumor on his appendix in 2019, was considered to be at higher risk for serious health complications if he contracted the coronavirus and did not travel to the bubble.
Under Kloppenburg, Seattle tied Las Vegas for the best record in the league (18-4) but held the playoff’s No. 2 seed because the Aces won both regular-season meetings. The Storm and Aces ranked Nos. 1 and 2 in both offensive and defensive rating during the regular season.
So it was fitting that Seattle and Las Vegas would eventually meet in the finals, after the Storm swept the Minnesota Lynx in the semifinals and Las Vegas beat Connecticut in five games. The primary threat to Seattle during that series was when three players returned inconclusive coronavirus test results, postponing Game 1 for two days until everyone was cleared.
A major difference in the title-clinching series was Bird, who did not play in either regular-season meeting against the Aces.
In Game 1’s 93-80 win, Bird posted a career-high 16 assists, which was also a finals and playoffs record. In Game 2’s 104-91 victory, she spearheaded the 33 team assists that set a finals record.
Stewart was also sensational. In Game 1, she totaled 37 points, one shy of the W.N.B.A. finals record, 15 rebounds and 4 blocks. She scored another 22 points, including five 3-pointers, in Game 2.
Throughout the series, Seattle’s offense was efficient, balanced and free-flowing, starting fast and then pulling away in the final quarter.
On the other end of the floor, Seattle slowed a Las Vegas offense that thrived on attacking the basket and getting to the free-throw line. Though Wilson, Angel McCoughtry and Kayla McBride produced for the Aces, they did not get consistent help from a bench that was the best in the league during the regular season. The Aces were also hurt by being without Dearica Hamby, the back-to-back Sixth Woman of the Year Award winner, who did not play after injuring her knee in the semifinals.
Before the finals began, Kloppenburg said his team could see the light at the end of the bubble. He joked that served as extra motivation to “finish it up, and everybody can go home.”
The Storm will head back to Seattle as the 2020 W.N.B.A. champions.