FAIRFAX, Va. -- Despite being a win away from securing the franchise's first championship in eight years, the Seattle Storm don't have to look back far to remember how hard it is to close out a series.
Prior to taking the court for their final practice before facing the Washington Mystics in Wednesday's Game 3 of the WNBA Finals (ESPN2, 8 p.m. ET), one team was constantly referenced among Storm personnel, from coach Dan Hughes to regular-season MVP Breanna Stewart -- and it wasn't the Mystics.
Up 2-0 against the Mercury in the WNBA semifinals, Seattle had the chance to clinch the series on the road. Instead, the Storm suffered back-to-back losses for the first time this season as the series went to a deciding Game 5. In Game 3, the Storm were outplayed by the Mercury, who received dominant performances from DeWanna Bonner, Brittney Griner and unlikely hero Yvonne Turner. In Game 4, in addition to losing Sue Bird to a broken nose, the Storm relinquished a 17-point lead over the course of three quarters. It took a 14-point fourth-quarter performance from a facemask-adorning Bird in Game 5 to ensure the Storm weren't on the wrong side of the record books.
"I think that series, looking back on Phoenix, it's something that we really learned from," Stewart said. "From letting a team back into the game, to end of game how we're handling things. Now it's just another growth; another step toward maturity is just winning on someone else's home court."
But the Storm have yet to win on the road in the playoffs, despite posting the best road record in the regular season. Bird hopes that the elevated stakes Wednesday can motivate the Storm to avoid any complacency they might've experienced in Phoenix.
"We understand that the difference here is we have a chance to win a championship and not just advance to the next round," Bird said. "Hopefully that can bring out a little more hunger in us."
Despite being on the brink of elimination in their first WNBA Finals appearance in franchise history, the Mystics remained cool and collected on the eve of Game 3. Washington already has staved off elimination on three occasions this postseason: The Mystics routed Los Angeles in a single-elimination second-round matchup at home; they won Game 4 at home in the semifinals; and then they won on the road in a squeaker over Atlanta in Game 5 to advance to the WNBA Finals.
"We're here in front of our home crowd and we're fighting," Mystics guard Kristi Toliver said.
Still, Mystics guard Natasha Cloud described her team's situation as "David and Goliath," as no team in WNBA history has come back to win the championship after trailing 2-0 in the Finals.
But the Storm expect a battle, and as the Mercury taught them, teams down two games have nothing to lose. Hughes knows that the Mystics likely won't go 0-for-16 again on 3-pointers like they did in Game 2.
And unlike the semifinals, Seattle seeks to bring a sense of urgency into Game 3.
"Whenever you go up 2-0, you understand that teams are going to be desperate," said Bird, who has won two WNBA championships, including in 2010 when Seattle swept Atlanta. "They are going to play that way offensively, they're going to play that way defensively. Them being at home helps that cause even more so."
Bird added that Seattle must limit turnovers. In Game 2, the Storm had 15 giveaways, their highest total in the playoffs. Stewart had five, tying her season high.
"We understand that we have to take care of the ball," Bird said. "[Turnovers have] just stopped us from getting into the flow we want to get into."
"We understand that we have to take care of the ball. [Turnovers have] just stopped us from getting into the flow we want to get into." Storm point guard Sue Bird
For Hughes, the focus is on rebounding, particularly on the defensive end to limit second-chance opportunities for Washington's Elena Delle Donne and Toliver. The Storm know they won't be able to completely neutralize Washington's star tandem, which is averaging a combined 23.5 points in the best-of-five series, but Seattle must look to limit their touches and attempts.
"You're only going to impact [Delle Donne and Toliver] to a degree," Hughes said. "But we'll take a degree because they're hard guards in a lot of situations."
Upon entering EagleBank Arena -- the site of Wednesday's game, as the Mystics' usual home at Capital One Arena undergoes renovations -- the Storm received an inadvertent welcome despite being 2,700 miles from home. Though the floor of the arena, the home gym of George Mason University, boasts the imported red, white and blue signage of the Mystics, the 10,000 seats surrounding the court alternate from green to yellow -- Storm-like colors.
Seattle drew the fifth-largest announced crowd in franchise history for Game 2, and the Storm will take any reminder they can of their fan base. If nothing else, it reminded players of what's on the line.
"We don't want to go [back] to Seattle to play," Stewart said. "We want to bring the trophy back to Seattle from this game."