The Seattle Storm and the Connecticut Sun could easily meet in the WNBA Finals later this year. But first, two of the league’s top teams will face off in the championship game of the inaugural Commissioner’s Cup.
The Storm and Sun each qualified for the Commissioner’s Cup final by posting the best record in select intraconference games earlier this season.
Commissioner’s Cup offers big money for WNBA players
Each WNBA team counted its first home and away game against each conference rival toward their regular-season standings, and toward the Commissioner’s Cup. Connecticut dominated in the Eastern Conference, posting a 9-1 record to outpace the Chicago Sky by three games. Meanwhile, Seattle finished 8-2 in the Western Conference, a game ahead of the Minnesota Lynx and two ahead of the Las Vegas Aces.
Now, the players will face off in a single game at Footprint Center in Phoenix, Arizona on Thursday night as they compete for a $500,000 prize pool. Each player on the winning team will earn $30,000, with the losers taking home $10,000 each. In addition, the MVP of the Commissioner’s Cup will earn a $5,000 bonus.
“Who doesn’t want an extra 30 grand in your pocket?” Sun forward DeWanna Bonner told reporters. “Money is great, especially for the rookies.”
Players on rookie-scale contracts could boost their salaries by as much as 50% with a win on Thursday night. The Commissioner’s Cup also put a bit more emphasis on early-season matchups and gives the WNBA a marquee game that will stream on Amazon Prime Video.
“[The prize money] became a talking point in our locker room, as we got off to a good start,” Connecticut head coach Curt Miller told reporters. “It was a part of every conversation.”
Olympic heroes return for Storm
The Storm won both regular-season matchups with the Sun this season. On May 25, Seattle squeaked past Connecticut 90-87 in overtime. The Storm then blew out the Sun 89-66 on June 13. Yet, Connecticut comes into Thursday night’s game as a 1.5-point favorite in the Commissioner’s Cup final, according to FanDuel Sportsbook. That’s mainly due to the way the two teams are coming off the Olympic break.
While the Sun had no players participating in the Tokyo Olympics, the Storm sent five players to the tournament. Sue Bird, Jewell Loyd, and Breanna Stewart helped lead the United States to a gold medal in Tokyo, while Stephanie Talbot and Ezi Magbegor played for Australia.
Seattle head coach Noelle Quinn doesn’t want to use the Olympic return as an excuse, but acknowledged that it could have an impact on Thursday’s game.
“Conditioning isn’t going to necessarily affect Olympians more so than a jelling, chemistry factor,” Quinn told reporters. “I’m hoping that is seamless. We may not look great those first few possessions. We have to get back into a groove. This one game doesn’t impact our record so there’s some grace in there. We’re not putting pressure on ourselves to play our players 40 minutes.”