A’ja Wilson and Breanna Stewart duel as Aces defeated Storm in Sue Bird’s final regular season home game: Takeaways

Leading up to Sunday afternoon’s showdown between the Las Vegas Aces and Seattle Storm, all the focus was on playing Sue Bird in her final home game of the regular season. She was honored by the city of Seattle and the organization in a moving pre-game ceremony and addressed the sold-out audience after the final buzzer.

However, as the game started to tip, A’ja Wilson and Breanna Stewart stole the show in a stellar duel between the leading MVP candidates. Wilson got off to a flying start, finishing with 29 points and six rebounds as the Aces held off the Storm for an 89-81 win despite Stewart’s 35 points and 10 rebounds.

Here are three key takeaways from the game:

1. Wilson and Stewart duel

At the end of the season, either A’ja Wilson or Breanna Stewart will win the 2022 WNBA MVP Award, becoming the seventh player in league history to earn the honor multiple times. In 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 on, helping the Aces lead the second quarter for good. She finished with 29 points and six rebounds at 13-of-24 from the field, and came with some key baskets in the fourth quarter to hold off the Storm. Although she was always a strong scorer, this performance was another reminder of how much she improved her attacking game. She hit jumpers, put the ball on the deck to get to the basket, and showed off some real craft on the pole.

On the other hand, Stewart did everything she could to keep the Storm in the game, despite getting no help from anyone other than Tina Charles, who was the team’s only other double-digit scorer. Stewart went on a season-high 35 points and 10 rebounds on 10-for-18 from the field and 4-for-5 from 3-point land. She was particularly effective along the stretch, scoring 14 out of 18 points in the Storm’s fourth quarter, but it just wasn’t enough. This was Stewart’s second consecutive 30-point game as she improved her scoring average to 21.9 points per game and approached her first scoring title.

2. Vogel honored for last home game of the regular season

Sue Bird is the WNBA’s all-time leader in games played, and few of those 651 games have meant as much as Sunday, which was her last home game of the regular season in Seattle. And thanks to the new playoff format, possibly her last game ever in the city where she made her home.

The Storm are engaged in a battle with the Mystics in the first round for the number 4 seed and home field. Under the league’s new playoff system, the first-round series will be best-of-three with the higher-ranking team hosting Games 1 and 2. Therefore, there is a scenario where the Storm finishes fifth and is beaten 2-0 by the Mystics without playing a home game. That’s unlikely, of course, but it’s possible, which made Sunday even more meaningful.

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

“Right now I just want to say, from the bottom of my heart, how grateful I am,” Bird said as he addressed 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 secured a spot in the playoffs, but are still battling for better seeds.

Aces first. After the Sky beat the Sun earlier in the day, the Aces desperately needed a win to keep up in the race for the No. 1 seed and create some division in the battle for the No. 2 seed. They got what they needed and are two games behind the Sky with one more game between the clubs set to determine the tiebreaker. They are now also a match on the sun and already have that tiebreak, meaning they are closer to securing at least a top-two seed. The second finishing Aces remain the most likely outcome, but they are still chasing first place.

As for the Storm, they got great 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 number 4 seed. The Storm remains half a game ahead of the standings with one game in hand and holds the tiebreaker between the clubs. However, they have a more difficult schedule, with games against the Sky, Lynx and Aces still at stake.

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