There were a lot of plays in Game 3 of the WNBA Finals on Wednesday, but this was the play: After opening the fourth quarter with a 14-3 run, the Washington Mystics, down 0-2 in the best-of-five series to the Seattle Storm, had turned what moments earlier seemed like an insurmountable 16-point deficit into a suddenly within-their-grasp five-point game with still more than six minutes left to play in regulation. George Mason’s EagleBank Arena (it was a home game for the Mystics) was wired all the way up, everyone on the Mystics bench was standing and yelling and cheering, and ESPN’s Ryan Ruocco, calling the game, was starting to tee up what looked like it was going to be a game-swinging stretch.
It felt like the Storm, for the first time all series, were not going to be able to match Washington’s ferocity. And it felt like the Storm, for the first time all series, were rattled. And it felt like the Storm, for the first time all series, had lost their death grip on the Mystics.
But, as it turns out, they hadn’t.
Sue Bird, of untold confidence and a cast-iron resolve, dribbled the ball up the court and initiated the Storm’s offense. She ran a quick screen action with Natasha Howard at the top of the 3-point line before passing the ball to Breanna Stewart. Before we go any further, let me say very quickly: Natasha Howard was absolutely dazzling for the entirety of the series, but especially in Game 3. She played 37 of the game’s 40 minutes, scored a career-high 29 points, shot over 78 percent from the field (!!!), and gobbled up a game-high 14 rebounds. She was everywhere for the Storm, doing all the things they needed her to do in exactly the ways that they needed to be done. She was perfect, and truly invaluable.
At any rate: Sue ran a quick screen action at the top of the 3-point line with Natasha Howard before passing the ball to Breanna Stewart. The movement forced Elena Delle Donne, who was guarding Stewart, into a lateral slide, which has been bad news for Delle Donne ever since she nearly snapped her leg in two during Washington’s semifinal series against the Atlanta Dream. As soon as Delle Donne started to slide over, Stewart, deadly and dastardly and brilliant, cut back in the opposite direction, attacking Delle Donne when she was at her most vulnerable.
EDD tried to switch her feet around and keep pace with Stewart, and really, all things considered, she did a fairly good job of it. But it was of no matter. Stewart had already gotten a shoulder past her, and so all that was left to do was for Stewart to slice EDD’s head off and then stick it on a spike in the ground as a warning to anyone else who might try to guard her. Stewart took two hard dribbles with her left hand to get into the middle of the lane, hit the brakes, gathered the ball, gave just enough of a feint to get Delle Donne to reach out, then jumped into EDD’s hands.
The ref blew the whistle to signal a foul, and Stewart, impervious to the restrictions and governances of gravity, held her body in the air juuuust long enough to not only get control of the ball, but also to get a shot off. It eventually found its way to the rim, rattling its way in for an and-1 opportunity, and that was that.
Natasha Howard, who was already battling her way into rebounding position while the ball was in flight, gave a fist pump to celebrate. Alysha Clark, who had been waiting in the nearest corner in case Breanna decided to pass it and who also had a sparkling performance in Game 3, yelled and clapped her hands and walked toward Stewart to touch hands with her. Sue Bird, who’d squatted all the way down while the ball was in the air as a way to try to will it into the basket with her body, stood up quickly and flexed both of her biceps. Sami Whitcomb, stalking around the 3-point line, punched at the air and screamed loud enough that it was picked up by the courtside mics. (All of the other key players on the Storm may be more instrumental to the team’s overall success, but Whitcomb, their fireball 3-point specialist, is, no question, my favorite to root for.) And Stewart, forever unfazed by her own basketball artistry, clapped her hands together once, gathered her teammates for a quick meeting, then walked over to the free throw line and knocked down the extra point. The Storm were back up eight, and the Mystics never threatened again.
One minute later, the lead was up to 10.
Two minutes later, it was 14.
Three minutes later, 16.
And it just kept on like that, until the game was out of reach, and then over, and then the Seattle Storm were champions.
Here’s a neat thing: The final scoring play of the series for the Storm was a pick-and-roll between Breanna and Bird that ended with an easy layup for Breanna. It felt extremely symbolic.
Here’s an overwhelming thing: Breanna Stewart won four championships in a row when she was at UConn. She also won the Final Four Most Outstanding Player award four years in a row during that time. She was drafted first overall in 2016 and then won Rookie of the Year. In 2017, she was an All-Star. In 2018, she was an All-Star, and then the league MVP, and then a WNBA champion, and then Finals MVP. She fucking wins everything. It’s unreal. (My favorite thing about this is that there was very clearly a moment in Game 3 when she developed a look on her face that said, “Nah, none of y’all out here are fucking with me.” If you’re a fan of a team that has a player who reaches that level, it’s wildly exciting. If you root for a different team, though, then you might as well go ahead and just get ready to be mad for the next 10 or so years.)
Here’s a theoretical thing: Excepting Sue Bird, the Storm are a young team. And they’re also a powerful team. And now they’re a championship team. Assuming they keep Stewart, Clark, Howard, and Bird together for, say, let’s call it three more seasons, can you foresee any situation in which they won’t win at least two more titles? Could they be the first repeat WNBA champs since the Sparks in 2002? And what if rookie point guard Jordin Canada ends up being as long-term-good as she looked in these playoffs? How long would that championship window extend then? Is Seattle going to be the next great sports dynasty? Is that going to happen? And did it all officially begin Wednesday night? Because it definitely felt like it.