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WNBA 2021 Commissioner’s Cup championship: Storm pull away from Sun to claim trophy, bonus checks

On Thursday night, the WNBA returned from its Olympic hiatus with the championship game of the inaugural Commissioner’s Cup — the in-season competition that debuted this season. Thanks to a dominant third quarter, the Seattle Storm pulled away from the Connecticut Sun for a 79-57 win to lift the trophy. 

Breanna Stewart led the way with 17 points, four rebounds, three assists and four steals, while Jewell Loyd added 16 points and Sue Bird chipped in 10 points and five assists. After taking an 11-point lead into the break, the Storm put the game out of reach by outscoring the Sun 22-5 in the third quarter. 

For her effort, Stewart was named MVP of the game, which came with a $5,000 bonus. 

Here are some key takeaways from the game: 

Here comes the money

One of the big draws of the Commissioner’s Cup — at least in theory — was that $500,000 would be on the line in the championship game. In a league where max salaries are still in the low six figures and many young players are making between $60-70,000, that was expected to be a significant incentive.  

In practice, the players didn’t put extra emphasis on Commissioner’s Cup games. “To be honest with you, I don’t think we go into the game thinking about that,” Dallas Wings forward Kayla Thornton said earlier this season. “I think in the aftermath, once we sit down and talk about stuff, it’s like, ‘Oh, dang, that was a Commissioner’s Cup game.'”

Once the championship game arrived, however, the money was suddenly very real. For winning this game, every player on the Storm will receive $30,000, while every player on the Sun will get $10,000. Stewart will get an additional $5,000 for winning MVP. 

Storm’s Team USA trio picks up where it left off

Five days ago, the United States women’s basketball team won a historic seventh straight gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics. That team featured three members of the Storm: Breanna Stewart, Jewell Loyd and Sue Bird. Coming into the game, one of the big questions was how that trio would fare with such a quick turnaround. 

While all that travel may catch up with them at some point down the stretch, they didn’t seem to be bothered by it in this game. They picked up right where they left off in Japan, and were in a much better rhythm than the Sun right from the opening tip. Those three were the only Storm players in double-figures and combined for 43 of the Storm’s 79 points on 16 of 25 from the field. 

It’s worth noting that because it was such a big blowout none of them even played in the fourth quarter. In fact, when they checked out of the game late in the third, they were outscoring the Sun by themselves at that point, 43-40. 

Sun look rusty 

While the Storm may have been dealing with some fatigue, the Sun were clearly dealing with the opposite issue. None of their players went overseas to the Olympics, so they hadn’t played in a real game since July 11 when the league went on hiatus. While they could practice and scrimmage in that time, there’s no way to simulate an actual competitive game. 

That rust was obvious all night long, as the Sun were sloppy with the ball and missed far too many easy shots. They turned it over a whopping 20 times, which is tied for their second-most turnovers in a game this season. While turnovers were an issue for them at times prior to the break, this was worse than usual, especially since a number of them were shot clock violations. While the Storm deserve credit for their defense, numerous shot clock violations in one game is a sign of an out of sync team. 

Moreover, the Sun shot 9 of 30 in the paint through the first three quarters, including an 0 of 9 mark in the disastrous third quarter. Again, some of that is the Storm’s stout defense, but there were a bunch of shots that bigs like Jonquel Jones and Brionna Jones would normally make that they just didn’t in this game. 

On the bright side for the Sun, this game didn’t count towards the regular season standings, so they were able to shake some of that rust off before it really matters. 

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