FAIRFAX, Va. — When the final second ticked off the clock, they immediately found each other.
Long Island native Sue Bird, the 37-year-old legend, and Breanna Stewart, the 24-year-old legend in the making, fell into each other’s arms before they were mobbed by the rest of their Seattle Storm teammates.
Led by these two former UConn players from different generations, the Seattle Storm defeated the Washington Mystics, 98-82, Wednesday night at EagleBank Arena to complete a three-game sweep and earn the franchise’s third WNBA championship.
It was the first WNBA title for Stewart, but it looks as if it might not be the last.
Stewart, who scored 30 points, capped off a remarkable season by adding a WNBA Finals MVP trophy to her regular season MVP trophy.
In the three games against Washington, Stewart averaged 25.6 points and six rebounds.
“Honestly, it didn’t feel like my first WNBA Finals close-out game,” Stewart said. “I think the way I looked at it was it was just another game. One game that leads us to what we’ve been working for four months.”
The win was particularly special for Bird, the only member of the team who was there for their previous championships in 2004 and 2010.
“As I was walking off the court a few minutes ago, it just came to me that this is going to be one of the defining moments of my career,” Stewart said. “To do it at this age .<EN>.<EN>. It means a lot.”
Stewart got some scoring help Wednesday night from teammate Natasha Howard, who scored 29 points on 11-for-14 shooting. Bird finished with 10 points and 10 assists.
It was the first ever trip to the Finals for the Mystics. Washington’s Elena Delle Donne, who hasn’t been her same dominating self since suffering a bone bruise in Game 2 of the semifinals against Atlanta, delivered a gutsy 23-point performance. Kristi Tolliver scored 22 points.
The Mystics trailed by as many as 18 points in the game and were behind by 16 at the end of the third quarter. A 14-3 run at the start of the third quarter cut Seattle’s lead to five points at 72-67 when Tierra Ruffin-Pratt made a three-pointer with 6:49 left.
It took just 14 seconds for things to get quiet again as Stewart hit a pull up jumper on the fast break.
She was fouled by Delle Donne and made a free-throw to complete the three-point play and basically take back the momentum.
Bird hit a three-pointer and made a driving layup down the stretch to keep the Mystics on their heels.
One big question entering the game was whether Delle Donne could return to her dominating form. She admitted after the game that the injury had been hard for her to deal with. She also thinks that her team has a bright future.
“Obviously this Finals didn’t go the way we wanted it to, but I think the thing is that we can still improve,” she said. “We don’t feel like we’ve peaked and this was it for us. We feel like we’ve got a lot of young, great talent and obviously this is how we wanted it to end, but it’s an experience we can grow from.”
The bad news for the Mystics is it isn’t the only team that believes it can improve.
"I think we’ve got some work to do, but if you’re asking me if we have hit a ceiling, no,” Seattle coach Dan Hughes said. “There’s still growth in this team.”