Washington Mystics prepare for first-round ‘chess match’ in playoff series vs. Seattle Storm

·4 min read
Breanna Stewart #30 of the Seattle Storm and Elena Delle Donne #11 of the Washington Mystics
Breanna Stewart #30 of the Seattle Storm and Elena Delle Donne #11 of the Washington Mystics

For Washington Mystics coach Mike Thibault, facing off against the Seattle Storm in their first-round, best-of-three playoff series will require his best chess-master impersonation.

“Seattle’s like a chess match the entire game,” Thibault told reporters Tuesday ahead of his eighth appearance in post-season play with Washington since 2013. “You know, ‘Okay, they did this; what are we going to do? We do this; what are they going to do?’ They always present a challenge of always having an answer for something.”

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In a matchup of No. 4 vs. No. 5, respectively, Seattle and Washington arrive at the playoffs with matching records (22-14) and similar bragging rights, having combined to win three of the last four championships. The Storm took the WNBA title in 2018 and 2020, while the Mystics also made two Finals appearances in the last four years, losing in a sweep to the Storm in 2018 and winning the 2019 title.

But Seattle comes in with several not-so-secret weapons including 13-time All-Star Sue Bird, who’s aiming to help the Storm secure its fifth title in her 19th and final WNBA season, and 2018 league MVP Breanna Stewart, who earned her first scoring title this season (21.8 points) and on Tuesday was named AP Player of the Year for the second time. Their dominant offense also includes four-time All-Star Jewell Loyd, who set a franchise record on Sunday when she recorded her 73rd three-pointer of the season, and 2012 league MVP Tina Charles, who joined Seattle from Phoenix midway through the season.

“You have to be able to make adjustments on the fly, you have to be able to stay disciplined about what you think is the most important thing and not get lulled into doing the wrong things defensively,” said Thibault. “… You know, can you stick to your plan the whole game against them? Because if you don’t, they’re gonna make you pay.”

Bird echoed the same sentiment, noting that executing the game plan while staying nimble for adjustments will be key.

“Both teams are very well coached, both teams are very smart, both teams have players on their team who can just go get a bucket. And that’s Stewie and Elena (Delle Donne), and when you have players like that, you really never know what’s going to happen. It’s going to be a tough series for sure.”

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Fans caught a glimpse of what this series might have in store in July, when the two teams played a back-to-back at Washington. The Storm took the first game, 82-77, and Mystics rallied to take the second, winning 78-75, although Seattle won the season series 2-1.

Mystics’ All-Star forward and two-time league MVP Delle Donne, who missed all of 2020 and most of 2021 with back issues, played just 25 games this season but had an obvious impact as Washington went 18-7 with her in the game.

Thanks to a change in playoff format for 2022, Seattle will host the first two games of the best-of-three series.

“Is it great to have your first two games at home? Yeah,” said Bird, noting that the biggest benefit of the 2-1 format was not needing to travel across the country as soon as the regular season concluded.

“I’m sure for a team on the other side of that, in this case D.C., you’re like, ‘Dang, we gotta fly across country and play two games on the road.’ And then they’re probably like, ‘Yeah, but if we split, we get to come home and play Game 3,’ you know? And that’s just what it is. So, I don’t really know if there is an advantage. …

“I don’t think it’s a playoff format I would like to see long term, but I do understand it got rid of the single-elimination (games) and made it kind of more of a balance (with seeding). So I think we’re on the right path.”

How to watch the Seattle Storm vs. the Washington Mystics in the 2022 WNBA Playoffs:

  • Game 1 – Thursday, August 18: Washington at Seattle (10pm ET on ESPN2)

  • Game 2 – Sunday, August 21: Washington at Seattle (4pm ET on ESPN)

  • Game 3 (if necessary) – Wednesday, August 24: Seattle at Washington (TBD)

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Washington Mystics prepare for first-round ‘chess match’ in playoff series vs. Seattle Storm originally appeared on NBCSports.com