FAIRFAX, VA. - Sue Bird and Breanna Stewart fretted following the regular-season opener after the Seattle Storm lost at home to the Phoenix Mercury.
"We thought, 'What kind of year is this going to be?' " Bird reminisced.
The answer came nearly four months later with a championship.
Stewart led the Storm to its third WNBA title Wednesday night, scoring 30 points in a 98-82 victory over the Washington Mystics in Game 3 of the best-of-five series.
Natasha Howard, a Lynx reserve last season, added a career-high 29 points and 14 rebounds for the Storm. Seattle won 26 games during the regular season — 11 more than in 2017 — to enter the playoffs as the No. 1 seed, and swept the Finals.
Stewart was the league MVP and was selected the Finals MVP after averaging 25.6 points in this series. She scored 17 points in the first half as the Storm took a 47-30 lead.
"Stewie was just amazing," Storm coach Dan Hughes said. "She truly was the MVP of this league. She truly was the MVP of these Finals. God blessed me with an opportunity to coach her and I will be forever grateful."
Bird, also a member of a Seattle's championship teams in 2004 and 2010, was certainly appreciative of the title — and the growth of the Storm's younger players. Seattle landed Jewell Loyd and Stewart, both All-Stars in 2018 with Bird, with the No. 1 overall picks in 2015 and 2016, respectively.
"Each [championship] is special in its own way, but this one is probably going to have a different meaning for me," said the 37-year-old point guard who had 10 points and 10 assists. "There is probably no comparison to be honest. I didn't know if I'd be playing at this point. Our team went through a rebuild and yes, I decided to stay. Once we got Stewie and Jewell, we knew we'd get to the other side, but how do you know you're going to get to the other side this fast?"
Hughes sensed something brewing early in his first year with the franchise. Following the Phoenix loss, Seattle won five in a row.
"This was our year," Hughes said. "All year you could just see the escalation."
Elena Delle Donne scored 23 points for the Mystics and Kristi Toliver 22 points.
"Obviously, this Finals didn't go the way we wanted it. [But] we don't feel like we peaked and this is it for us," Delle Donne said.