SEATTLE -- Breanna Stewart already has an extensive trophy collection at age 24: four NCAA titles at UConn, the WNBA's Rookie of the Year award and this season's MVP honor. So there was absolutely nothing unexpected about her performance in Game 2 of the WNBA Finals on Sunday in a 75-73 Storm victory. Nor about what she did in Friday's Game 1, an 89-76 Storm win that set the tone for this series.
Still, when you come up big when the spotlight is the brightest and the stakes are highest, that's how you build "legend" points. Stewart scored 25, plus had 7 rebounds and 3 assists, as the Storm took a 2-0 lead in the WNBA Finals on Sunday. That followed her 22 points, 3 rebounds and 5 assists in the opener.
If you're a longtime Seattle fan, it might have made you think about the last time Seattle was in the WNBA Finals -- 2010 -- and another stellar performance by a Storm MVP post player.
Lauren Jackson had a combined 52 points and 15 rebounds against the Atlanta Dream in the first two games of a series that ended in a sweep. That's what the current Storm will be looking for in Washington on Wednesday night. And if they do that, it will have a lot to do with Stewart standing tall in a tightly contested, entertaining Game 2 in which she scored nine fourth-quarter points.
"What made this an MVP-type game is down the stretch, she wanted the ball," Storm point guard Sue Bird said of Stewart, who was 7-of-13 from the field and 10-of-14 from the line Sunday. "She was posting up hard. We want to get her the ball, and she finished the plays off.
"Anyone can get lucky; anyone can have a great game, a la myself in Game 5 [of the semifinals]. Anybody can have one night. But for somebody who consistently has presence and consistently wants the ball and is consistently winning your team basketball games, that's an MVP. Stewie showed that tonight, but in all honesty, she's been showing it all season."
Of course, Bird referring to her own closing game of the semifinals as "lucky" is self-deprecatingly hilarious. If point guards were more fairly considered for the season MVP award, Bird would also have one by now. But her point about the consistency of Stewart's success is well taken, because that requires mental toughness and no fear of the moment, as well as pure physical skill.
Stewart has that feeling for being good all the time, but also knowing how to find another gear to really crank it up. Jackson had that, too, and Stewart celebrated the Storm's previous dynamic duo with Bird's and Jackson's names on her sneakers for Sunday's game.
Bird is still at it, Jackson is cheering on the Storm while watching the series from her home in Australia, and both, no doubt, are proud of Stewart. Other than two missed free throws with 16.9 seconds left -- which could have come back to haunt the Storm, but didn't -- Stewart did her MVP best.
"Right from the jump, I just wanted to be really aggressive," Stewart said. "You knew that this was Game 2, and they were going to come out like a better D.C. team than we saw in Game 1.
"I was able to get to the free throw line, and I would have loved to have made those last two at the end. But the majority of the game, just being aggressive, assertive and doing the plays to win the game."
The last time Stewart really struggled on the basketball court was during her first year at UConn. But even that was like the required "conflict" that comes in a Broadway musical, where you know everything ultimately will turn out fine. It did for Stewart, who had a spectacular Final Four as a freshman, and then just built on that with three more titles.
And while she knew it might take a little while to help right the ship in Seattle, Stewart knew it would happen. Following Jewell Loyd as a No. 1 pick, Stewart entered the WNBA in 2016 ready to make an impact. The expectations were not going to weigh her down.
The Storm went 16-18 her rookie season and 15-19 last year, losing in the first round of the playoffs both times. Stewart averaged 18.3 points and 9.3 rebounds her first season, and 19.9 and 8.7 her second.
Along with her college championships, Stewart had already won an Olympic gold medal before playing in her first WNBA Finals. So she felt prepared throughout this Storm season --when they went a league-best 26-8 and she averaged 21.8 points and 8.4 rebounds -- to be ready for the playoffs. Still, it has been a matter of doing it.
Stewart had 28 points in the semifinal opener against Phoenix, and 28 again in the finale of that series. For her seven playoff games this year, she's averaging 23.9 points, 6.7 rebounds and 2.4 assists.
Mystics coach Mike Thibault wasn't happy that Stewart took 14 free throws Sunday, but the Storm put her in position to do that by continually working to get the ball in her hands. Even if she didn't make a play with the first touch, Seattle got the ball back to her on the same possession.
"Those [second touches] are huge, because not only is she going to score, she's going to distribute well," Seattle coach Dan Hughes said. "And sometimes it's the second touch. Sometimes the congestion in the first touch doesn't always lead to something. But if there's a second touch ... your chances for success with Breanna Stewart catching the ball twice [are] good. I've watched enough tape to know."
Indeed, there have been Stewart highlights since May. Now she's adding to them in September, and that's what championship runs are made of: bringing it over and over and over.
"Every game, you're trying to be at the peak level," Stewart said. "The MVP was for regular season, and that's over. I don't feel like I need represent being MVP any different than I normally represent myself on the court. I'm going to play at the highest level, and on the biggest stage, you just want to play your best."