The 2018 WNBA Finals are set. After two thrilling semifinal series, each going the maximum five games, the Seattle Storm and Washington Mystics have emerged victorious and earned the right to play for the title starting on Friday night.
Ahead of Game 1, which will tip at 9 p.m. ET in Seattle, here are five things you should know heading into the championship round.
Delle Donne not 100 percent
The Mystics got a major scare in Game 2 of their semifinal series against the Atlanta Dream when Elena Delle Donne went down with a nasty-looking knee injury late in the fourth quarter. Thankfully, it turned out to "only" be a bone bruise, and their superstar was able to return to the lineup in Game 4 after sitting out Game 3. With EDD back, the Mystics took the final two games to win the series, 3-2. However, while she was able to tough it out and get back on the court, Delle Donne is clearly not 100 percent, which is a major disadvantage for the Mystics.
In the first two games of the playoffs, she averaged 29.5 points and 13.5 rebounds on 48.5 percent shooting. In two games after returning from the injury, she put up 14.5 points and 10.5 boards, while shooting just 39.2 percent. She's still a helpful player, but just doesn't have the same level of explosiveness on the offensive end. Perhaps more worrying for the Mystics, though, is how her lack of mobility will affect her on the defensive end -- especially considering the Storm's athletic and active frontcourt of Breanna Stewart and Natasha Howard.
Top-tier 3-point shooting
The Storm and Mystics absolutely love shooting from long distance -- and they're both really good at it as well. In the regular season, the Storm led the league with 24 3-point attempts per game, and the Mystics were right behind at third with 23.4 attempts. Additionally, the Storm were first in the league at 37 percent from downtown, while the Mystics hit 35.8 percent of their attempts, good for fifth. In terms of individuals, 11 of the league's top 25 3-point shooters from this season will be playing in this series.
There could very well be times during this series where both teams are playing lineups in which every player has to be respected from beyond the arc. And it wouldn't at all be surprising if this matchup simply comes down to which team shoots better from the 3-point line.
First finals appearance for Mystics
The Mystics are one of the longest-running WNBA franchises, having joined the league in its second season back in 1998. Until this season, however, they'd had very little playoff success. Rarely terrible -- they've won fewer than 10 games just four times -- they just couldn't win in the postseason. They lost nine of their first 10 playoff series, and before this season had been to the semis (previously conference finals) just twice -- with one of those appearances coming last season. But after a dramatic Game 5 win on the road over the Dream on Tuesday night, they've finally broken through to reach the Finals for the first time in franchise history. In addition, the Mystics became the final active franchise to make the Finals.
On this topic, it's perhaps interesting to note that this Finals matchup comes exactly 40 years after the Seattle SuperSonics and Washington Bullets competed in the NBA Finals. Just a fun bit of trivia.
Both teams are led by a number of stars. In Washington you have Elena Delle Donne and Kristi Toliver, and in Seattle there's the trio of Sue Bird, Breanna Stewart and Jewell Loyd. But, in what should come as little surprise considering they're both in the Finals, each team has plenty of help from a strong supporting cast. And you only have to look back to the respective Game 5s of their semifinal series to see that.
The Mystics got 20 points and seven rebounds from rookie guard Ariel Atkins, while back-up big Tianna Hawkins added 17 points off the bench -- a career-high. Meanwhile, the Storm were boosted by 11 points and four assists off the bench from Sami Whitcomb, and Alysha Clark went for 13 points and 13 rebounds in a typically solid performance.
Other players to pay attention to in this series who you may not be familiar with are LaToya Sanders and Natasha Cloud for the Mystics, and Natasha Howard -- the 2018 WNBA Most Improved Player -- for the Storm. You can expect the stars to show up in the big moments, but games in the Finals are often swung by a role player stepping up. Each team has plenty of candidates to fill that role.
A return to the East-West Finals matchup
For the 2016 season, the WNBA modified their postseason rules to eliminate the impact of conferences. This meant that instead of the top four teams from each conference making the playoffs, and each conference then crowning their own champion who would go on to the Finals, the eight best teams would get in. While the tweaked format of the postseason has been a bit controversial because of the inclusion of two single-elimination rounds, it has so far resulted in great matchups later in the playoffs. That is once again the case this season, as we've got a great Finals matchup after two thrilling semifinal rounds.
But one interesting note about the Storm-Mystics series is that it will be a return to the East vs. West format for the first time since 2015. Because of the removal of conference restrictions, the Finals can now feature two teams from the same conference. That resulted in two straight classic Finals between the Sparks and Lynx in 2016 and 2017. But this time around, we just so happened to get a Western Conference team vs. an Eastern Conference squad, which means a return to the classic format.