It’s easy to consider the Aces-Storm semifinal round series as one of the best in Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) history. After all, each of the four matches could have gone the other way, with breaks in the crunch ultimately crafting the outcome. And, yes, if the relief etched in the faces of the winners was trumped only by the disappointment hanging over the shoulders of the losers, it’s because the inevitable What Ifs and Could Have Beens crop up in any discussion reliving the best-of-five affair.
At the same time, there can be no doubting that the Aces proved superior throughout. There’s a reason they won three straight contests after dropping the opener, and it’s not because they were luckier when they needed to be; rather, they were better when they needed to be. It’s a testament to the Storm’s championship pedigree that they hung around as well as they did given their obvious frailties. Only former Most Valuable Player awardee Breanna Stewart showed up every single time, and even her best could not approximate the combined forces of newly minted MVP A’ja Wilson, Kelsey Plum, and postseason revelation Chelsea Gray.
Make no mistake. The Storm left everything on the floor, and not simply because they wanted to prevail. More importantly for them, they fought hard because staying alive in the playoffs meant staying the retirement of living legend Sue Bird. Unfortunately, the inconsistency of their stalwarts outside of Stewart told on their competitiveness. Jewell Loyd finally made her presence felt in Game Four the other day, but it was too little, too late, especially in the face of the disappearance of the rest; not for nothing did only the two of them score in double figures.
Perhaps the Storm would be singing a different tune had they claimed Game Three. The manner in which they snatched defeat from the throes of victory was deflating, to say the least — not unlike how the Cavaliers were all but walking dead after their faux pas at the end of regulation in Game One of the 2018 National Basketball Association Finals. All credit to them for trying, but they were toast in the extra period, as the Aces gleefully noted in the aftermath of the set-to.
The future doesn’t look bright for the Storm. Bird, the glue that held them together to the point of turning a seemingly long rebuild into title quests, is gone. And so may Stewart be in an offseason where they are compelled to fill their roster with only two signed so far. Then again, they’ve been there and done that. They have the institutional knowledge that can help them weather the brewing storm, so to speak, and far be it for them to accept staring at the backsides of the Aces in the medium term.
Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994. He is a consultant on strategic planning, operations and Human Resources management, corporate communications, and business development.