WNBA playoffs 2020: Breanna Stewart, Angel McCoughtry deliver superstar performances

Stewart's playoff career-high 31 points lead Storm to WNBA Finals (1:36)

Breanna Stewart sets a new career high in the playoffs with 31 points as the Storm defeat the Lynx 92-71 to advance to the WNBA Finals. (1:36)

The Seattle Storm came into the WNBA's bubble in July as the favorite. Now they're heading into the WNBA Finals, starting Friday, looking difficult to beat.

The No. 2 seed Storm swept the Minnesota Lynx with a 92-71 victory Sunday, and now they'll wait to see who they play. The Las Vegas Aces' 84-75 win over the Connecticut Sun in Sunday's first game tied that series 2-2. Those teams meet in the decisive Game 5 on Tuesday.

Stewart earned the right to take Tuesday night off by scoring 31 points -- her career playoff high -- in closing out the Lynx. Stewart was just 4-of-13 shooting overall and 0-of-7 from 3-point range last Thursday, even though the Storm still won Game 2 by 10 points.

She seemed to want to make a statement Sunday. She didn't win MVP this season -- Las Vegas' A'ja Wilson did as the Aces earned the No. 1 seed -- but there's still WNBA Finals MVP to shoot for, along with what would be Stewart's second league title.

Stewart, who won four NCAA championships with UConn, led the way in 2018 when the Storm swept Washington in the Finals. But the Achilles tendon tear she suffered in April 2019 kept her out all of last year. This season, it has been the same "old" Stewie, who at 26 is eager to win another title. Sunday, she added 6 rebounds, 7 assists, 3 steals and 2 blocked shots.

"This is a new season, we're here in the bubble, there's a lot of things that are different," Stewart said of comparisons to 2018. "We're happy to be back in the Finals.

"I think we were really locked in with what we wanted to do. We wanted to close out the series, and yesterday we made sure everybody was on the same page as far as our defensive scheme."

McCoughtry helps force semifinals to Game 5


Aces even series behind McCoughtry's huge second half

Angel McCoughtry scores 16 points in the third quarter and adds a highlight-reel and-1 in the fourth to lead the Aces to a Game 4 victory over the Sun.

Angel McCoughtry didn't want to think about whether Sunday would be the last game of the Las Vegas Aces' season. She just wanted to enjoy the moment. It seemed to work. Her 29 points -- including 16 in a third quarter that put the Aces in control -- gave Las Vegas an 84-75 victory to extend its semifinal series with Connecticut to a fifth game.

"You just kind of find the fun in it," McCoughtry said. "I got some great advice from Elena Delle Donne on this. It just really helped to hear from people who have been in this position."

Delle Donne, who led the Washington Mystics to the 2019 title, isn't playing this WNBA season. But she was MVP last year as the Mystics beat the Sun in the Finals. Former Olympic teammates, Delle Donne gave McCoughtry some encouragement via Instagram messaging.

McCoughtry, who had 10 points in the first two quarters, said she also saw Seattle's Sue Bird in the hallway at halftime, and clasped hands with her.

"I said, 'Hey, Sue Bird, give me a little bit of that power,'" McCoughtry said, chuckling. "Yeah, I got the Sue Bird power, so hopefully she doesn't want it back."

The Aces opened Sunday trailing 2-1 in the semifinals, and they had lost WNBA Sixth Woman of the Year Dearica Hamby to a knee injury. Before the game, both Las Vegas coach Bill Laimbeer and Connecticut coach Curt Miller made reference to McCoughtry being the key player in making up for Hamby's absence.

But rather than put too much pressure on herself, McCoughtry seemed to do the opposite: She just played. One of the league's best all-time scorers, she came up big at the exact time Las Vegas needed her.

"Angel didn't want to go home," Laimbeer said. "I can't believe how calm she is out there this whole year. She's got a calmness about her right now that's great for our basketball team."


A'ja Wilson fired up after tough and-1 bucket

Aces star A'ja Wilson gets the ball in the post and hits a sweet fallaway jumper for the hoop and the harm.

The No. 1 pick out of Louisville by the Atlanta Dream in 2009, McCoughtry hasn't always been described as calm on the court. But in her 11th season in the WNBA and having turned 34 earlier this month, she has matured into the veteran presence that Laimbeer knew the Aces needed. That's why he brought McCoughtry in as a free agent this season.

McCoughtry was the league's leading scorer in 2012 (21.4 PPG) and 2013 (21.6), and led Atlanta to the WNBA Finals in 2010, '11 and '13. Her career high came a decade ago, Sept. 7, 2010, when she scored 42 points to clinch the Eastern Conference finals series against New York.

She looked as if she had another chance to make the WNBA Finals in 2018, but McCoughtry suffered a knee injury late in the regular season and, without her, the Dream fell in the semifinals to Delle Donne and the Mystics. The knee injury sidelined McCoughtry last season, too. This season was a fresh start with Las Vegas, and she has made the most of it, averaging 14.4 points and 5.1 rebounds during the regular season.

But she also averaged just 20.0 minutes per game then, as Las Vegas had the most productive bench in the league. With Hamby out, McCoughtry played her most minutes of the season (33). She went 13-of-22 from the field, and had 5 rebounds, 6 assists and 3 steals.

"This is the playoffs," McCoughty said. "This is everything. You give it all you've got."

Robinson answers the call

Laimbeer told Wilson before the game that she didn't have to do it all. And that proved to be the case. The Aces got a double-double from Wilson (18 points and 13 rebounds), but McCoughtry wasn't the only veteran who helped.

Danielle Robinson had one of her best all-around games of the season with 18 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists and 3 steals. Like McCoughtry, Robinson is in her first season with the Aces, signing as a free agent. It's her ninth season in the WNBA. The No. 6 pick in the 2011 WNBA draft out of Oklahoma, Robinson spent her first five seasons in San Antonio, was out injured in 2016, spent 2017 in Phoenix, and played for Minnesota the past two years.

Laimbeer knew Robinson would bring quickness and defense. But her offense Sunday was particularly timely. Hamby scored in double figures in 18 of her 22 regular-season games but had hit that mark only in Game 2 of the semifinals with 11. Laimbeer said the Aces needed someone else to step forward offensively.

"We knew there was another gear we had to go to," Robinson said. "We knew there was going to be different rotations, people playing a little bit more minutes. It didn't matter; we wanted to get the job done."

Strong showing for Bird

Stewart is Seattle's best player, but Sue Bird is still captain of the ship. And although she has dealt with knee issues in the bubble, she came through Sunday the way she has been doing since 2002. Bird had 16 points -- tying her season high -- and nine assists with just one turnover.

Bird, who will be 40 in October, missed last season after knee surgery. This year, she was limited to 11 of the Storm's 22 regular-season games but has been able to play all three of the Storm's postseason games.

Bird didn't shoot well Sunday, going 5-of-13, but there was little else to quibble about from a future Hall of Famer.

"You could tell before the game, just her focus was laser-sharp," Seattle coach Gary Kloppenburg said. "She's been through a lot of these moments. She was really locked in. Her ballhandling was superb. I think she's going to end up shooting the ball better; she's still kind of feeling her way back, shooting-wise. What a tremendous floor game. And I thought she did a really good job defensively."

Bird complimented the Lynx, who were without star center Sylvia Fowles for most of this season because of a calf injury.

"Super excited to be in the Finals," Bird said. "Even more excited we were able to get it done in three games against a really tough opponent."

How does Seattle match up with ...

In case you are looking ahead: Las Vegas won both of its regular-season games against Seattle, although Stewart didn't play in the second one and Bird didn't play in either matchup. Connecticut lost both times it played Seattle. Those games were in August, and the Sun definitely improved later in the season.

So far in their semifinal series, the Aces and the Sun have alternated victories. Turnovers have been a big story, and Las Vegas had the better of that Sunday, with seven to Connecticut's 12.

Possessions mean everything to the Aces, as they rely on the 3-pointer less than any WNBA team. Winning the possession battle helped the Aces win despite Connecticut's nine treys to the Aces' one.

Can Las Vegas get as much production and the same extended minutes from players like McCoughtry and Robinson in Game 5? Will the Sun get more point production from DeWanna Bonner? She had 10 points Sunday, but grabbed 15 rebounds. Jasmine Thomas had 25 points, the second time this series she has led the Sun in scoring.

Since the WNBA changed its playoff format in 2016 to award byes into the semifinals for the top two seeds, no No. 1 seed has failed to reach the WNBA Finals. On Tuesday, the No. 7 seed Sun will try to end that streak.