LeBron and LA Lakers win Game 4 as Stewart and Sue Bird led the Seattle Storm to its fourth WNBA championship
Seattle has stormed to another WNBA championship.
In the most unusual of women’s pro basketball seasons – with the league played inside a bubble in Bradenton, Florida, since July – it was business as usual for Olympic gold medallists Sue Bird, Breanna Stewart and the Seattle Storm, which won its fourth team title – and second in three years.
Seattle trailed by nine points in the first quarter against the Las Vegas Aces, but took a 23-21 lead to end the opening stanza and never looked back, sweeping the finals 3-0 with a convincing 92-59 triumph.
Stewart was unanimously chosen as the finals MVP, having scored 85 points across the three games played.
"The city of Seattle has always had our backs... we've always had their support," Stewart said in receiving her trophy. "The greatest challenge was all the adversity. We knew we were in the bubble... (but) everyone bought in. We rolled with the punches. And now we're the champs."
Bird, partner to women’s football superstar and fellow Olympic gold medallist Megan Rapinoe, extended her own WNBA record for years between championships: She first won with Seattle in 2004, 16 years ago.
"It's been amazing... it's been a really tough but rewarding season," Bird said on court. "This is crazy, to be honest. I can't believe that I'm here right now."
"It's been a lot of hard work... I don't cheat," she said. "It's been an honour to play with this entire team."
Seattle swept the Washington Mystics in 2018, while also collecting titles in 2010 and 2004. The win pulls the team equal with the Minnesota Lynx and (now defunct) Houston Comets for the most WNBA titles in history: Four.
"This year has been a lot," added Storm player Jewell Loyd on ESPN, invoking the memories of both Kobe Bryant and Breonna Taylor. "[Kobe] was one of the first people to really believe in me."
Seattle's 92-59 win was record-breaking in itself: The largest margin of victory in WNBA finals history.
It didn't start as a sure thing, however, with the Aces, down 0-2 in the series, coming out firing and taking an early nine-point lead in the first quarter behind the strong play of league MVP A'ja Wilson. But Seattle edged ahead by the end of the first quarter, 23-21 and didn't bat an eye when MVP Stewart was benched midway through the second with three fouls.
The Storm led 43-34 at the half -- the game would never be closer.
Stewart scored a game-high 26 points while Loyd added 19, Seattle registering a 32-point third quarter that etched their name - at least in pencil - in the WNBA trophy.
Bird finished with five points and a game-high seven assists. Wilson led the Aces with 18 points herself.
It was the most unusual of seasons for the WNBA, which joined the NBA (albeit separately) in a "bubble" environment due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a limited 22-game regular season preceding the playoffs.
Seattle, many predicted, would be favoured to win another title should it make the championship bout -- and they did just that, behind the veteran leadership of Bird and the enthused brilliance of Stewart, both former University of Connecticut Huskies.
Both the Storm and the Aces went 18-4 in the regular season, but Seattle clicked into high gear in the post-season: It swept both the Lynx and Vegas 3-0, capping the year at 24-4 overall.
All three of its finals wins vs. the Aces were double-digits, though the Game 3 blowout was of historic proportions.
The Aces failed to take their 2-0 regular season record vs. the Storm into the final, including a nail-biting 86-84 win in the last game of the season on 13 September.
LeBron James and the LA Lakers need just one more win to secure the title after beating the Miami Heat 102-96 in Game 4.
It would be the franchise's first championship in 10 years.
“The job is not done,” James said.
The Lakers won the first two games but lost Game 3.
"Defensively I think we were just better overall," said Anthony Davis, who scored a crucial 3-pointer in the fourth quarter to put the Lakers in front.
"Mistakes are going to happen. But we seemed like we played with a little bit more sense of urgency."
Game 5 of the seven-match series is on Friday.
Miami Heat welcomed back Bam Adebayo who had been sidelined with an injury.
"Physically, [I'm] still not a hundred percent," he said.
Adebayo ended the game with just one assist - his lowest since January.
"Our backs are against the wall [but] it's not like it's never been done before.
"We still got hope, we are still going to grind to the end."
Need more convincing? The Seattle Storm are the best team in the WNBA, led by Olympic gold medallists Sue Bird and Breanna Stewart to a record-tying fourth team title.