The WNBA is so close. After 142 games (regular season and playoffs), zero positive coronavirus tests, and almost 100 days in a bubble, the WNBA is so close completing its season. The league will become one of the first professional sports leagues in the country to pull off holding an entire regular season (albeit shortened to 22 regular season games) with playoffs inside a bubble without one single positive coronavirus test, while still successfully advocating for racial justice and bringing attention to racism.
The two teams remaining, the No. 1 seed Las Vegas Aces and the No. 2 seed Seattle Storm, will play in Game 1 of the WNBA Finals starting Friday. Those teams and the remaining league personnel and staff are one best-of-five game series away from getting back out into the rest of the world for the first time since July.
“I’m incredibly proud that we’ve reached this point and accomplished what we did related to COVID-19 health and safety,” Commissioner Cathy Engelbert said Thursday. "Although we’re not done yet. You know, we’re in pretty good shape so far.
“It’s a huge sacrifice for so many.”
The Storm were able to get this far with their best players in Breanna Stewart, Sue Bird and Jewell Loyd at the helm. Stewart missed the 2019 season after tearing her right Achilles tendon during a EuroLeague game in the offseason.
The 2018 WNBA and Finals MVP — and 2020 WNBA MVP runner up — returned to the court this season looking like she hadn’t missed a beat and this Storm team picked up right where it left off. Even Liberty head coach Walt Hopkins said after his team’s season opener that Seattle looked like they were already in mid-season form. Stewart and Bird weren’t both on the floor towards the end of the regular season, nursing various injuries. Both returned in full force during the semifinals and made quick work of the Minnesota Lynx, sweeping them 3-0.
Every time the Storm have made it to the Finals, they’ve won (2004, 2009 and 2018). The only game it lost in a Finals was back in ’04 when the series was best-of-three. Stewart and Bird, who did not play during both losses to the Aces during the regular season, are both poised and ready to try to win Seattle its fourth championship, which would tie them with the Lynx and Houston Comets (defunct) for most WNBA championships ever.
The Aces, on the other hand, have seemingly had to prove themselves all season long. The Storm, before the season began, were in most predictions to make the Finals this season, but the Aces were counted out a few times — something the 2020 WNBA MVP and 2018 Rookie of the Year A’ja Wilson said in her passionate acceptance speech of the award.
“So many people doubted us, it was in conversations, but we did it,” Wilson said on Sept. 17. “Of course the job’s not done, but we put a lot of people on notice.”
The discounts were partly because they went into the bubble missing two of the key players that got them to the semifinals last season: Kelsey Plum (Achilles) and Liz Cambage (medical opt out).
Wilson, along with 2020 Sixth Woman of the Year Dearica Hamby and Angel McCoughtry played a huge role in leading the Aces to a No. 1 seed and Finals berth. It’s their first Finals trip in three years in Nevada; they were previously the Utah Starzz, then the San Antonio Stars. Hamby, who played every game of the regular season and put up 20-plus minutes in three playoff games, injured her right knee in Game 3 of semifinal series against the Connecticut Sun. So, the biggest force the Aces needed to go up against Stewart, won’t see the court again until next season.
©2020 New York Daily News
Visit New York Daily News at www.nydailynews.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.