The 2018 league MVP did exactly that Tuesday night, leading her Seattle Storm to a 92-59 victory over the Las Vegas Aces in Game 3 of the WNBA Finals to complete a sweep and give the franchise its fourth title. The Storm’s 33-point margin of victory was the largest in WNBA Finals history, and it capped an unprecedented year in which the league’s 12 teams played the entire regular season and playoffs at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., as a safety measure amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.
But Stewart was not only concerned about losing a year with Bird in 2019; she was coming off a major injury of her own.
“I didn’t know what was going to happen after rupturing my Achilles’,” said Stewart, who wore Nike goggles and brought a bottle of champagne to her postgame video conference with reporters. “You see all the worst things. I wasn’t sure if I was ever going to be back where I was. To be able to be here, to be able to see myself playing like this and having so much potential going forward, it’s exciting. Being able to play with Sue, I guess it just makes you appreciate more. I want to win.”
The final win came in dominant fashion after the Aces jumped to an early nine-point lead. Stewart had to sit with three fouls in the second quarter, but the Storm outscored the Aces 16-10 with her on the bench. A 22-5 run that spanned the end of the second quarter and much of the third gave Seattle a 55-36 lead and put the game away.
After scoring 26 points, Stewart was named Finals MVP for the second time. She has scored 20-plus points in six straight Finals games — each one she has played, including three in 2018 when the Storm swept the Washington Mystics — to set a WNBA record. Jewell Loyd finished with 19 points and nine rebounds, and Bird had five points and seven assists. Jordin Canada scored 15 points off the bench.
The Storm, the No. 2 seed, didn’t lose in the playoffs, and five of its wins came by double digits. In the regular season, Seattle had more wins by 20-plus points (five) than losses (four).
“Stewie, she’s just one of those players, a generational player,” Storm Coach Gary Kloppenburg said, “that comes through once in a while that can face adversity and even get stronger because of it. She misses a whole year, and she came back a better player pretty much in every category.”
Seattle’s second title in three seasons was a reminder to anyone who might have forgotten about Stewart’s dominance after she missed the 2019 season — and that WNBA championships still run through Seattle.
Stewart now has a second trophy, and Bird, 39, has her fourth ring. Bird led the league in assists in the postseason and has created an all-time duo with Stewart. If not for an Achilles’ injury for Stewart and arthroscopic surgery on Bird’s knee that scuttled Seattle’s hopes in 2019, the Storm might have secured a three-peat Tuesday.
“The fact that I’ve been able to do it in different decades with the same franchise, not many people can say that,” Bird said. “To be able to re-create that magic with different groups . . . to stay at a high level over time is something I’m definitely proud of because it hasn’t been easy. The hardest part about being an older player is . . . you start to question whether you can do it anymore. You start to question why you’re doing it. You start to question if it’s worth it.”
Aces forward A’ja Wilson, the regular season MVP, finished with 18 points after posting 14 in the first quarter. Guard Jackie Young added 11 off the bench.
“It was very obvious that they had more weapons than we do,” Aces Coach Bill Laimbeer said. “It was clear they were the better team in this series. For the whole season, I’m so proud of our players. We came in shorthanded and then got more shorthanded — three of our top six players are out. But we accomplished a lot.”