Stewart returned to the storm in the bubble, and Seattle didn’t miss a single stroke in 2020, tying Las Vegas to the league’s best record (18-4) and moving forward to hit the aces in the WNBA final, which begins Friday.
“I play basketball to win,” said Stewart, 26. “I think if you win or lose, you determine how you feel, how the season has gone. To be back in the final is exactly where we wanted to be. We know we weren’t happy with anything less than being here again and bringing the trophy home.
“When I was out last year, I kind of appreciated winning a little more. I’ve come to appreciate everything I could on the basketball court a little more, especially when I couldn’t. “
Stewart’s storybook scenario consists of three wins, but the current MVP gets in the way. A’ja Wilson leads the aces into the finals and Las Vegas holds number 1 after beating the storm in both regular season meetings.
At the end of an odd year in which the novel coronavirus pandemic forced the league into a bubble at IMG Academy, the WNBA can bow its season with a showcase fight of its biggest young stars.
“Everyone in the sport loves it when a seed or two ultimately fight for a championship,” said WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert. “A lot of star power.
“In the last few years the MVPs were in the finals. … We look forward to this matchup. “
It was fair to wonder if Stewart could get back to the form in which she was named two-time All-Star Rookie of the Year, MVP and Finals MVP, in her four years in the league. She answered the doubts with an average of 19.7 points, 8.3 rebounds and 1.3 blocks.
As strong as she was, she was MVP runner-up at Wilson.
Wilson, 24, missed a month of the 2019 season with an ankle injury. She was named an All-Star for the second time in two years but was banned from the postseason and the Aces lost to the Mystics in the semifinals.
Las Vegas seemed ready for another deep run before guard Kelsey Plum, the NCAA’s top scorer, tore her Achilles tendon in June. The addition of Angel McCoughtry helped stabilize it, but Wilson, who averaged 20.5 points, 8.5 rebounds and two blocks in the league, was the driving force. She burst into tears when she was surprised with the MVP award at what she thought was a team meeting with officials.
“The greatest thing was just the feeling of being tallied,” said Wilson. “I was the underdog who came into the season. We were the underdog who came into the season. For us it was just a moment when it looked like we had changed people’s attitudes.
Aces coach Bill Laimbeer added, “This year she came with the mindset, ‘Okay, this is my basketball team. I have a responsibility. ‘… She wants to win championships. She wants to win a lot of championships. “
Every team has something to prove.
The Storm wants to show that as of 2018 it is still the dominant team as it has all its firepower back, despite the fact that backup guard Sami Whitcomb recently returned to Australia to be with her wife for the birth of their child.
The Aces are trying to add hardware to cement their status in the league’s elite.
“I haven’t trained very many players as complete as [Stewart]”Said Storm Coach Gary Kloppenburg,” with the work ethic and knowledge of the game. … LeBron, Kobe, for basketball acumen and the ability to find a way to win, she belongs to that group of players.
“I don’t know if you can really stop a great player [Wilson]. She improved her game. Now she really has no weakness. . . . You’re just trying to minimize their touch when you can. Try to keep them in a crowd and clear them out. “