FAIRFAX, Va. — The last time the Storm was in this situation and had the opportunity to sweep a series with a win on the road, Seattle played one of its worst games of the season.
The experience, the players say, should help them tonight at EagleBank Arena, home to George Mason University, as they seek to close out the Washington Mystics in three games and capture the franchise’s third WNBA championship.
“We learned in the Phoenix series that whenever you go up 2-0, regardless of location, you understand that teams are going to be desperate,” 17-year-veteran Sue Bird said. “They’re going to play that way offensively. They’re going to play that way defensively.
“Them being home helps that cause even more so. Hopefully we can use our experiences from that Game 3 in Phoenix, and go from there. We understand that the difference here is that we have a chance to win a championship, and not just advance to the next round, so hopefully that can bring out a little more hunger in us. This is the Finals. Regardless of being up 2-0 or whatever, these games are hard, no matter what.”
Two weeks ago, the Storm had a chance to eliminate Phoenix in three games, but succumbed to a 14-0 run at the start of the fourth quarter in an 86-66 defeat.
Two days later, Seattle came up short in an 86-84 loss, in which Breanna Stewart inadvertently broke Bird’s nose and forced her to sit out the second half.
The Storm moved on to the Finals after a pivotal win in Game 5 in Seattle.
“When I look back at that series, Game 3 was kind of a wash,” said league MVP Stewart, who is averaging 23.9 points and 6.7 rebounds in the playoffs. “They came out guns blazing and we just couldn’t catch up. Game 4, honestly, was some self-inflicted stuff. We had the lead, (I) broke Sue’s nose (and) that made things a little different.
“The way we battled was better than Game 3. We know we don’t want to go back to Seattle to play. We want to bring the trophy back to Seattle.”
To do so, the Storm will need to do something it hasn’t done since its last championship season in 2010 — win a road playoff game.
The last time Seattle won a postseason game away from home, the Storm relied on a balanced offensive attack to overcome 35 points from Angel McCoughtry and defeat the Atlanta Dream 87-84 for a 3-0 sweep.
Since then, Seattle has lost seven straight.
The 2010 Storm team was a bunch of veterans led by Bird, Lauren Jackson and Swin Cash who had already won a championship.
Aside from Bird and Natasha Howard, every Seattle player is making their first trip to the championship round.
“We’re not like L.A. and Minnesota where they’ve been here and had those experiences,” coach Dan Hughes said. “We have to learn from the experiences that we have. ... We went through that in our first series.”
“You’re on the road and you have a team that’s ready to really accelerate, and you’ve got to deal with it. Doesn’t mean it’s going to be easier, but at least you have the knowledge of it, and it’s not a new experience that you’re just talking about. It’s one you’ve been in.”
The Storm’s seven-game losing streak in road playoff games suggests Seattle will struggle Wednesday night against a Mystics team that’s facing elimination for the fourth time.
However, league history says otherwise.
Since moving to a five-game format in 2006, five teams have started 2-0 in the WNBA Finals and each has gone on to win the series in a sweep.
The now-defunct Detroit Shock was the first to do it in 2008, followed by Seattle (2010), Minnesota (2011 and ’13) and Phoenix (2014).
The Mercury cruised past a Chicago Sky team led by Elena Delle Donne, the Mystics’ leading scorer who hopes to avoid another sweep in the Finals.
The five-time All-Star forward is coming off a 17-point outing Sunday and is optimistic that a return home will help Washington win the next two games.
The Mystics will certainly embrace a change of venues after connecting on just 3 of 37 (8.1 percent) three-pointers — including 0 for 16 in Game 2 — in the series.
“We need to go to Washington and be ready,” Stewart said. “Obviously they’re going to want to win on their home court, but we’re trying to get this thing done in three.”