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The Seattle Storm’s Dynamic Duo Is On The Brink Of Another Title

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In the 2018 WNBA season, the Seattle Storm romped to a championship thanks to a stacked roster. But at the center of the team’s dominance was a pair of future Hall of Famers: the veteran point guard, Sue Bird, and the do-everything forward, Breanna Stewart.

The Storm were, by net rating, 15.7 points better than their opponents that regular season with Bird and Stewart together on the floor. In the 2018 playoffs, against improved competition? Still 11.1 points better.

So it is more than a little shocking that the 2018 Bird-Stewart duo has been completely overshadowed by … the 2020 performance of Sue Bird and Breanna Stewart.

In the 2020 regular season, Bird and Stewart were 27.2 points better than their opponents, the best mark among any duo with at least 200 minutes played. And in the playoffs, they’ve posted a net rating of 20.7, best among any pair with at least 100 minutes in the postseason.

“I think our games complement each other,” Bird said Monday, a day ahead of Game 3 of the WNBA Finals. Seattle has a chance to sweep the Las Vegas Aces tonight and win its second WNBA title in three years. “And usually, the more you play with somebody, the more comfortable you get. I do think a big part of it is just the level that Stewie is playing at. I kind of am who I am — don’t get me wrong, I do what I do — but Stewie, right now, is playing at a very high level.”

Perhaps it’s natural for Bird to pass credit to Stewart — after all, Bird set a single-game WNBA Finals assist record in Game 1 against the Aces, while eclipsing her own all-time mark for a single game in the process, with 16 dimes. Nine of those 16 assists went to Stewart. And Stewart has elevated her game in this series, including a 37-point, 15-rebound output in Game 1, becoming the first player in WNBA Finals history to post a 35-and-15 game.

Even so, this ability to find each other isn’t a one-way street. In Game 3 of Seattle’s semifinal win over the Minnesota Lynx, Stewart delivered seven assists of her own. Five of them came on Sue Bird baskets.

Stewart, who matter-of-factly declared that she wanted to win four championships in college, then did so, never shies away from acknowledging her own level of play.

“To be honest, I don’t think the numbers are shocking,” Stewart said of the net ratings she and Bird have posted. “Between Sue and I, what we do together on the court is something that we work for. [Since] I came into the league, [we’ve been] continuing to learn how to read defenses, from both my position and her position.”

The touchless artistry is something to be seen in the highlights just as clearly as the dominating numbers. Take this moment from Game 1 in the Finals. Vegas defends as well as anyone other than Seattle, so Bird’s delivery needs to be precise to keep the Aces from blowing up the play. This is how it looks when Gary Kloppenburg draws it up:

Or take this delivery from Bird to Stewart, when the pair are on the break. Are 39-year-old point guards supposed to be doing this?

Well, Sue Bird does.

“It’s really remarkable they have that chemistry that they have,” Kloppenburg said. “Sue just knows where [Stewart’s] gonna be on the screen and rolls and all the different things that we do. It just seems like they have such a synergy.”

All this comes despite both players needing to cast off the rust from a 2019 season spent away from the game, after Stewart tore her Achilles and Bird injured her knee. But to hear Stewart tell it, that actually served as added motivation — and contributed to the pair’s success.

“When I got injured in 2019, one of the things that I was most devastated about was not being able to have an opportunity to play with Sue that year,” Stewart said. “Because I didn’t know how many more years she was going to be playing, and that was just a year that was gone. So to be able to have the opportunity to continue to be on the floor with her, we’re just taking advantage and enjoying playing with each other.”

The way they each frame the partnership is far beyond this year alone. The two have played alongside each other since 2016, after Seattle made Stewart their No. 1 overall pick in that year’s draft. They both played in the same collegiate system at Connecticut, though more than a decade apart. Still, when Stewart found out she was going to Seattle — in 2015, really, the day the Storm won the draft lottery, since no one doubted the top pick in 2016 would be Stewart — her first reaction was about her future teammate.

“That’s what I thought about,” Stewart said. “I’m going to go play with the best point guard in the world.”

That partnership helped convince Bird to stay in Seattle, and it keeps her wanting to play. Even their teammates have noticed that this comes not amid diminishing returns but with reaching new ceilings together.

“Breanna is doing even more on the defensive end of the floor,” Storm forward Natasha Howard said of what’s different in 2020. The numbers bear that out, too — Stewart posted more defensive win shares per game this season than she did during the 2018 campaign. “And she’s not settling on the offensive end. She’s being mad aggressive.”

There’s at least one more game to go in Seattle’s season, but if the Storm win the title, the duo will have posted the best net rating in the playoffs, minimum 100 minutes, of any championship team since Diana Taurasi and Brittney Griner destroyed opponents through the 2014 WNBA playoffs.

Kloppenburg, who has coached so many and observed many more of the best players in his long career, described the Bird-Stewart pair as “single-minded in their rehab,” and he struggled to come up with two teammates who have been better.

“I think they are a remarkable tandem,” Kloppenburg said. “I really can’t think of too many like that, men or women throughout the years, that have that kind of synergy and ability to dominate.”

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Cards knock off unbeaten Seahawks in wild OT

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GLENDALE, Ariz. — Of all the players to lead the Arizona Cardinals to an overtime win over the Seattle Seahawks, it was one of the most unlikely.

Rookie linebacker Isaiah Simmons intercepted Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson with 1:04 left in overtime on his fourth snap of the game. He didn’t play in the first half.

That led to Cardinals kicker Zane Gonzalez redeeming himself after missing the game-winning field goal earlier in overtime, making a 48-yard kick with 20 seconds left in the extra period to give Arizona a 37-34 win while handing the Seahawks their first loss of the season.

Arizona improved to 5-2, holding onto second place in the NFC West with the Los Angeles Rams playing Monday night.

Coach Kliff Kingsbury nearly cost the Cardinals the game earlier in overtime, when he iced Gonzalez with 2:47 left on second-and-15. Gonzalez made the initial kick but it didn’t count, then he missed the next one.

Then came Simmons’ pick.

It was just another typical Cardinals-Seahawks game — full of drama, twists and turns.

Both teams combined for 1,091 yards — 572 by Seattle and 519 by Arizona.

Kyler Murray threw for 360 yards, three touchdowns and an interception on 34-for-48 passing. He also had 67 rushing yards and a touchdown on 14 carries.

DeAndre Hopkins had 10 catches for 103 yards and a touchdown. Running back Chase Edmonds, who had two of the biggest plays in overtime, caught all seven of his targets for 87 yards. Larry Fitzgerald had 62 yards while catching all eight of his targets.

The game was moved to Sunday night amid concerns the Bucs-Raiders game might have to be postponed due to a positive coronavirus test on the Raiders and additional players being placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list due to contact tracing.

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Kershaw pitches Dodgers to brink of World Series

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ARLINGTON, Texas — As Los Angeles Dodgers manager Dave Roberts strolled to the mound with two outs in the top of the sixth inning, a chorus of boos rained down from the crowd at Globe Life Field. Even though this was Game 5 of Major League Baseball’s first neutral-site World Series, Dodgers fans have overrun the stadium, and they let their feelings be known: They did not want Roberts to remove Clayton Kershaw from the game.

Roberts did not abide, and as Kershaw strode off the mound, it was to a sound too often unfamiliar to him in October: cheers. If ever there were a postseason to huzzah the Dodgers’ left-hander, of course, this is it, and his plenty-solid performance in Game 5 laid the foundation for the Dodgers’ 4-2 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays on Sunday.

The win, on the heels of the Dodgers’ brutal Game 4 loss a day earlier, gave the Dodgers a 3-2 advantage in the series and put them one victory shy of their first championship since 1988. They can lock up a title in Game 6 on Tuesday night.

If this was Kershaw’s last appearance in the 2020 postseason — there’s always a potential Game 7 relief appearance looming — there’s a good argument that it’s his finest playoffs yet. His shakiness in Game 5 evened out in the middle innings – he even foiled the first attempted straight steal of home in a World Series game since 1982 — and by the time Roberts yanked him, Kershaw had retired eight batters in a row to gussy up a final line for 5 2/3 innings, 5 hits, 2 runs, 2 walks and 6 strikeouts. In total, he has thrown 30 2/3 innings these playoffs, allowed 23 hits, walked 5 and struck out 37 with a 2.93 ERA and 4 wins.

Though the jeers that greeted Roberts on his way to the mound were even worse as he returned to the dugout, his maneuvering in Game 5 worked far better than his bungling the day prior — even if it placed the Dodgers in one particularly hairy situation. Dustin May, the fireballer who replaced Kershaw, struck out Rays cleanup hitter Manuel Margot on a 101.5-mph fastball to end the sixth and threw another scoreless 1 1/3 innings afterward.

He exited with a runner on first when Rays manager Kevin Cash pinch hit left-handed hitter Ji-Man Choi, which prompted Roberts to go to lefty Victor Gonzalez. Cash immediately pinch hit right-hander Mike Brosseau, who mashes lefties, and he walked. Up stepped Randy Arozarena, the Rays’ best hitter and a right-hander as well.

On the first pitch, Gonzalez induced a flyout. Brandon Lowe floated a ball to center field for the third out. The Dodgers had escaped, and Blake Treinen — not Kenley Jansen, who blew Game 4 — came on in the ninth and recorded the save.

The Dodgers had played nine innings of clean baseball less than 20 hours after their two-error debacle with two outs and two strikes in the ninth inning allowed Arozarena to pound home plate for the winning run and Brett Phillips to airplane into the outfield after loosing the single that led to the chaotic series of events evening the series.

Mookie Betts ripped a leadoff double off Rays starter Tyler Glasnow, Corey Seager plated him with a single and Cody Bellinger‘s two-out infield single scored him, giving the Dodgers a 2-0 advantage. Joc Pederson‘s home run in the second extended it to 3-0 — the same lead he had and frittered away in Game 5 of the 2017 World Series.

World Series Game 5s, in fact, had been a bugaboo for Kershaw. The Boston Red Sox tarred him with four runs in four innings of the 2018 World Series, and he was beginning to bend in the third inning Sunday. Kevin Kiermaier singled, Yandy Diaz tripled him in and Arozarena drove him in to cut the lead to 3-2.

The key moment came an inning later. Manuel Margot drew a leadoff walk, stole second and advanced to third on a bad throw. Hunter Renfroe walked. With runners on the corners, Joey Wendle popped out and Willy Adames struck out. With Kevin Kiermaier at the plate and down 0-1, Margot dashed for home. Kershaw recognized in time and threw to Austin Barnes, who slapped a tag with Margot’s fingertips inches from home plate.

From there, Kershaw cruised, passing Justin Verlander for the most strikeouts all-time in the postseason with 206. Kershaw, circa 2020, is more craftsman than conqueror, and though this wasn’t the coronation he wanted nor the dominant start he desired, it was plenty good — something well worth cheering.

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Dodgers snap back vs. Rays, now a win away from winning World Series

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ARLINGTON, Texas — The theme late Saturday night and early Sunday afternoon — in the aftermath of a heart-wrenching, stomach-churning loss — was universal among the members of the Los Angeles Dodgers: They had to forget. They had to wipe away the memory of an improbable ninth-inning breakdown, bounce right back and win a crucial, World Series-shifting Game 5.

“We’re still pretty confident we’re the best team in baseball,” Dodgers catcher Will Smith said, “and we’re gonna win this thing.”

Thanks to more early runs, a gutsy start from Clayton Kershaw and a major recovery from the bullpen, the Dodgers moved a step closer with their 4-2 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays, taking a 3-2 Series lead and moving one victory away from their first championship since 1988.

The Dodgers picked up a couple of first-inning runs off Tyler Glasnow, then got solo homers from Joc Pederson and Max Muncy. But the game shifted in the bottom of the fourth when, with nobody out, two Rays batters on base and the Dodgers leading by only a run, Kershaw induced a shallow popup, recorded a strikeout, then retired Manuel Margot as he attempted to steal home.

Kershaw went on to retire the next five batters and, just as important, Dustin May retired the four who followed to protect the lead. The Dodgers pen protected that lead when Victor Gonzalez finished up the eighth and Blake Treinen nailed down the ninth to preserve the lead.

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