Storm, Mystics look to enjoy experience of WNBA Finals

Seattle's Breanna Stewart, right, is embraced by Sue Bird after the Storm defeated the Phoenix Mercury 94-84 in Game 5 of their semifinal series. The Storms will host the Washington Mystics in Game 1 of the WNBA Finals on Friday night. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
Seattle's Breanna Stewart, right, is embraced by Sue Bird after the Storm defeated the Phoenix Mercury 94-84 in Game 5 of their semifinal series. The Storms will host the Washington Mystics in Game 1 of the WNBA Finals on Friday night. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Seattle — Sue Bird leaned over toward Breanna Stewart and made sure the current MVP of the WNBA was paying attention to what the oldest player in the league was saying.

"This is advice," Bird said.

The message to Stewart was clear: At age 24, don't take for granted that she's leading the Seattle Storm to the WNBA Finals and expect it to happen all the time.

Bird should know. She won a title in her third WNBA season. It was another six years before she was back in the finals winning another title. And it was eight more years on top of that before Bird and the Storm finally made it back to the Finals, where they will face the Washington Mystics in Game 1 on Friday night.

"I didn't think we'd be back, to be honest," Bird said. "We started a rebuild and there was no telling when we'd get on the other side of it. It's not that my hunger for it went away or my motivation. Clearly, I wanted to stay at the top of my game and wanted to help this franchise get on the other side of this rebuild, but the Finals? That was very far from my imagination."

Bird is relishing this opportunity knowing it could be one of her last chances to win another title. And it was her performance in the fourth quarter of Game 5 against Phoenix that put Seattle in the championship series, hitting four 3-pointers and scoring 14 of her 22 points during a brilliant six-minute stretch that left the likes of Kobe Bryant and LeBron James singing her praises on social media.

Also not taking this trip to the Finals for granted are the Mystics. It's their first Finals appearance in franchise history. Star Elena Delle Donne went to the Finals in 2014 with Chicago, as did guard Kristi Toliver with Los Angeles in 2016.

"We've been leaders of this team and have just been trying to make sure everyone is focused, staying light, having a good time and spending time together, not just on the court but off the court," Delle Donne said.

Here are other things to watch in the best-of-five series:

STAR POWER: The matchup between Delle Donne and Stewart highlights the series. Stewart averaged 24 points in Seattle's series against Phoenix and carried the scoring load for much of Game 5 until Bird got hot late.

What Delle Donne did against Atlanta may have been better. Playing with a bone bruise in her left knee suffered in Game 2, Delle Donne returned for Games 4 and 5 and while her scoring was down, her presence on the court was a boost for the Mystics.

Delle Donne scored 29 and 30 points, respectively, in her two games against Seattle in the regular season, the second a blowout victory in Washington late in the season. Stewart had 25 points in each of the first two meetings but was held to 10 in the final matchup.

FIRST-TIME WINNER: The Finals will feature a coach who will raise the trophy for the first time. Seattle's Dan Hughes and Washington's Mike Thibault have enjoyed incredible individual success leading teams, but neither has ever won a title.

Thibault has only reached the Finals twice in his career — in 2004 and 2005 with Connecticut. In the first of those Finals trips, the Sun lost to Seattle.

Hughes has reached the Finals only once in his career, in 2008 with San Antonio, where it was swept by Detroit.

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