Sue Bird, Seattle Storm
You’ve been in the Finals before. How different or similar is this situation?
Bird: I think they’re all different. They’re similar in that you know what to expect from a media standpoint. You understand there will be a lot more eyes on you, the games get bigger and there’s more at stake. That part is all the same, the Finals are the Finals. But each team is so different as you head in. What it took to get there and what you had to overcome. In 2010 the Finals were a five-game series but this year the semifinals and finals are, and it went to Game 5, so for me it was unique for me, even though I’ve been here before. Obviously for this group it’s a brand-new thing. You can pull from your experiences but you obviously have to understand that just because it went one way in 2010 and 2004, has nothing to do with 2018.
How do you think home-court advantage will factor in for you all?
Bird: As the regular-season started to wind down and we looked at the standings and said ‘We can actually finish first,’ that became huge. We understood that that was really important, and know we’re feeling it, I hope. Just in terms of the rest we’re able to get, the lack of travel in between series. I’m sure Washington is happy that we went to a Game 5 because it made it a little more even, but it is good that both teams went to a Game 5 and we’re in the same boat. To be able to sleep in our own bed and know that our crowd is going to be behind us is huge.
I heard you say this Finals is more special to you, why is that?
Bird: I think it’s because you never know when you will get back. In that same quote I talked about how in 2004, I was young, I was 23, it was my 3rd year in the league when we made the Finals and I thought we’re probably going to do this all the time, and it didn’t play out that way. In 2010, it felt a little sweeter because you never know when you will get back. What’s different know is that I’m 37, we were in a rebuild a three years ago, so I didn’t even think this was in the cards for me. That’s why this one is different.
What are you telling some of your teammates that haven’t experienced this before?
Bird: Not much. We talked in the semifinals and I think that was a great experience for our team to have to gut it out in a Game 5 and have to find a way to win. To have a tough loss in Games 3 and 4. Those were tough losses. Also to win in a tough manner. These are all experiences that you try to put into words but until you feel it you won’t know. Some ways I’m really thankful we did all that in the semifinals and now we can take that with us to the Finals.
Natasha Howard, Seattle Storm
On playing in a fourth straight WNBA Finals…
Howard: Those experiences have prepared me a lot, playing behind great players and Olympians. It prepared me and also my teammates the whole season, what we put in the offseason, the preseason and now. We put it all in and just played.”
On preparing for the big stage of the Finals…
Howard: We have been really good. It’s been eight years, but we’re handling it really well. Sue [Bird] is making sure we’re all keeping level-headed and stay focused on ourselves right now and we’ll focus on Washington tomorrow.
On the team’s energy right now…
Howard: The energy? The energy is really good. It’s all the hard word we’ve been putting in and we’re not letting anything get to us. We are staying with high hopes and we’ll keep the high hopes and the high energy going.
Ariel Atkins, Washington Mystics
On the mentality of being a rookie in the WNBA Finals…
Atkins: I just need to look up to my older players, their pace, their lead and do whatever I need to do for this team to win.
On playing in the environment like KeyArena…
Atkins: We just need to stay locked in with each other and stay focused as a team. Like I said, just make sure we’re locked in with each other.
On coming off the Atlanta series now playing the Storm…
Atkins: I’m just coming in to do what my team needs me to do.
Elena Delle Donne, Washington Mystics
What do you see as some of the top challenges when facing Seattle?
Delle Donne: Their offense is tough to guard. They’re in constant motion and they have phenomenal individual players that can make a play at any given time. We have to make sure they don’t space us out too much and play great help defense.
You’ve played in a Finals before. Is that experience that you will try and draw from?
Delle Donne: For sure. Kristi [Toliver] and I have both been in the Finals, we’ve been leaders of this team and have just been trying to make sure everyone is focused, staying light, having a good time and spending time together, not just on the court but off the court. We had a great team dinner last night and we’re ready to get to tomorrow and start this thing off.
Is there anything specifically you tell your teammates about keeping the nerves in check?
Delle Donne: We’ll just keep reminding them of the specifics that we need to maintain throughout the game to try and get a win. We will focus in on the process and what we can do in the moment. You can’t look too far ahead or behind, you have to be in the moment. Everyone has done a great job so far with their nerves this series. We’ve had a few one-and-done games so we’ve had some nerve-wracking series so far and hopefully we can build on those.
What is it like going against Breanna Stewart?
Delle Donne: Stewie is a phenomenal player. She had such a great season and the team does such a great job with her ball movement, where it’s really hard to double team her. She’s the type of player that draws doubles. It will be a lot of fun. They’re a great team and you have to beat the best to be the best.
Kristi Toliver, Washington Mystics
As the only person on the team that’s won WNBA title, what knowledge can you pass on to your teammates in re: to what it takes to win it all?
Toliver: You’ve got to stay in the moment. Not make the moment bigger than what it is. Enjoy it. Value it. But most of all, just enjoy it.
What’s it feel like to get this franchise to the WNBA Finals for the first time?
Toliver: It’s why I left. I wanted to make history, and we were able to do that by reaching the Finals, but it’s certainly not the ultimate goal. There’s still work to be done, but it feels good to be a part of something special and a part of something new.
For more information on the WNBA fans are encouraged to click on the link seen here: