Friday night saw the Los Angeles Lakers take a commanding 2-0 lead over the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals. Anthony Davis bolstered his early case for Finals MVP with a 33 points and 14 rebounds performance—at one point Davis was shooting a staggering 14-15 from the field. LeBron, never one to be counted out of an MVP race, put up a 33-9-9 stat line with zero turnovers and yet the performance of the night belonged to the Seattle Storm’s Breanna Stewart.
In a game full of historic performances, which saw WNBA legend Sue Bird set a personal and league record with 16 assists resulting in the incredible rare +24 plus/minus while only scoring 2 points, and Jewell Loyd show off the entire offensive package en route to a career playoff-high 28 points, Stewie was the star. Stewart who was the league and finals MVP in 2018 before missing the entire 2019 season with a torn achilles, made her case for the greatest basketball player on the planet, October 2nd, 2020 edition.
The Aces, thanks to some aberrational three-point shooting were leading the Storm 34-31 with 6:20 remaining in the 2nd quarter when a crafty drive by Jewell Loyd cut the Las Vegas lead to 1, beginning what would be an 18-0 Storm run. Seattle would come back to earth in the third quarter, which saw the Aces’ cut the Storm lead back down to two. That is, until they left Breanna Stewart wide open in the corner to start the 4th. Stewart would go on to score 11 straight buckets sealing the game for the Storm on her way to a career playoff-high 37 points on 15-24 shooting.
It was a superstar performance through and through. Stewarts’ versatility was on full display as she dominated every key moment of the game. She outsprinted every Aces’ defender in transitions, dominated the paint, shot off movement, and attacked off the dribble, all while grabbing 15 rebounds and blocking 4 shots. Let’s look now at Stewart’s 4th quarter in an attempt to grasp her greatness.
As I mentioned earlier, the 4th quarter began with the Aces leaving Breanna Stewart wide-open on the weakside corner for an easy three (not a great idea). The next possession found Stewart at the top of the key, matched up against the slow-footed 6’6 center Carolyn Swords. Stewart attacked Swords easily and finished at the rim, totally undeterred by A’ja Wilson rotation.
Now that Stewie has torched Swords off the dribble, it’s time to show her the range. No hesitation: catch and shoot three, splash.
After a couple of empty possessions, Breanna finds herself on this year’s MVP A’Ja Wilson…and erases her jumper.
Now the trickery, Stewart shows off her footwork and shot off movement as she fakes a screen for Loyd, only to flare out behind the three-point line. The play works perfectly: the combination of Wilson’s late recognition and Loyd’s physical screen results in the easy bucket.
On the topic of recognition, watch here as Stewart keeps working for deep post position and then makes her move early before the help can come. Stewart was 9-12 in the paint Friday night.
The last basket of Stewart’s career-night came, fittingly, out of a Sue Bird pick n’ roll. Stewart rolls hard and is again undeterred by A’Ja at the rim. This would be Breanna’s final points of the game. She would head to the bench one point shy of the league’s Finals record. She would, however, be the first woman in Finals history to register a 30+point 15 rebound game.
The Aces’ issues aren’t exactly effort related. Sure, they can clean up the easy transitions buckets but the Dearica Hamby injury looms large over this team. They’ll also have to address the Carolyn Swords issue and the trade-offs involved in losing her rebounding to go small, but if the Aces are gonna steal a game or two off the Storm, they’ll have to get A’ja Wilson going. The league’s MVP often faced a packed lane during the minutes she shared with Swords in game one. Las Vegas’s identity is wrapped up in the notion of playing two bigs at all times, but they’ll need to exhaust every option against this Seattle team who looked every bit like a champion Friday night.
When To Watch Next
Storm v. Aces Game 2
October 4, 2020, 2:00 (CT) on ABC