October 3, 2023

Heading into Sunday afternoon’s matchup between the Las Vegas Aces and Seattle Storm, all focus was on Sue Bird playing in her final home game of the regular season. It was was honored by the city of Seattle and the organization in a moving ceremony before the game and addressed the sold-out crowd after the final buzzer.

However, when the game started, A’ja Wilson and Breanna Stewart stole the show in a terrific duel between the top MVP candidates. Wilson got off to a strong start and finished with 29 points and six rebounds as the Aces held off the Storm for an 89-81 victory despite Stewart’s 35 points and 10 rebounds.

Here are three key takeaways from the game:

1. Wilson and Stewart duel

After the season is over, one of A’ja Wilson or Breanna Stewart will win the 2022 WNBA MVP award and become the seventh player in league history to win the honor multiple times. During Sunday afternoon’s game between the Aces and Storm, they showed why they are the two best players in the league.

Wilson was on fire early and helped the Aces take the lead for good in the second quarter. He finished with 29 points and six rebounds on 13-of-24 shooting from the field, and made several big baskets in the fourth quarter to keep the Storm at bay. Although she has always been a strong scorer, this performance was another reminder of how much she has improved her attacking game. He was hitting jumpers, putting the ball on the deck to get to the basket and showing some real artistry in the post.

On the other hand, Stewart did her best to keep the Storm in the game, despite getting no help from anyone but Tina Charles, who was the team’s only other double-digit scorer. Stewart went for a season-high 35 points and 10 rebounds on 10-of-18 from the field and 4-of-5 from 3-point range. She was especially effective down the stretch, scoring 14 of the Storm’s 18 points in the fourth quarter, but it just wasn’t enough. It was Stewart’s second straight 30-point game as she improved her scoring average to a career-high 21.9 points and locked up her first title.

2. Bird was honored before the final home game of the regular season

Sue Bird is the WNBA’s all-time leader in games played, and very few of those 651 contests matter as much as Sunday’s, which was Seattle’s final home game of the regular season. And, because of the new playoff format, likely her last game in her home city.

The Storm are locked in a battle with the Mystics for the No. 4 seed and homecourt in the first round. Under the league’s new playoff system, the first-round series will be best-of-three with the higher-seeded team hosting Games 1 and 2. So there’s a scenario where the Storm finish fifth and sweep 2- 0 by the Mystics without playing a playoff game at home. That’s unlikely, of course, but it’s possible, which made Sunday all the more meaningful.

Before the game, the mayor of Seattle declared Sunday “Sue Bird Day” and was honored by the team with a heartfelt pregame ceremony. She also received a custom ring that honored her many accomplishments, which include four titles, a record 13 All-Star appearances and the WNBA’s all-time assists record.

“Right now I just want to say, from the bottom of my heart, how grateful I am,” Bird said while addressing the crowd after the game. “Not just for today, and all of you who show up and support us, but for 21 years… This place isn’t just where I played, it’s where I call home.”

3. Playoff implications for both teams

Both teams have already clinched a playoff spot, but are still fighting for better seeds.

First, the Aces. After the Sky beat the Sun earlier in the day, the Aces desperately needed a win to keep pace in the race for the No. 1 seed and create some separation in the race for the No. 2 seed. They got what they needed and are two games behind Sky with one game remaining between the teams that will decide the tiebreaker. Also, they are now a game in the Sun and already have that tiebreaker, meaning they are getting closer to securing at least a top spot. The Aces finishing second remains the most likely outcome, but they are still in the hunt for first.

As for the Storm, they got some major help from the Los Angeles Sparks, who upset the Washington Mystics on Sunday. With both the Storm and Mystics losing, nothing changed in the race for the No. 4 seed. The Storm remain half a game ahead in the standings with a game in hand, and own the tiebreaker between the clubs. However, they have a tougher schedule across the board, with games against the Sky, Lynx and Aces still to come.

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