Seattle – “That is why she is who she is.”
There may be no better way to describe Sue Bird’s performance in the closing minutes of WNBA semifinal Game 5 than how her coach did.
“Not only does she carry herself and compete in a certain way, she is ready for big moments,” said Dan Hughes, as he reflected after his team’s 94-84 victory over Phoenix in Tuesday night.
And boy, was she ready.
Bird had 14 points in the final six minutes — going 4-for-5 from beyond the arc — as Seattle advanced to its third WNBA Finals on the back of its 16-year veteran, while handing Diana Taurasi her first-ever loss in a winner-take-all game.
“I don’t know that I’ve had a fourth quarter like this in as big of a game in my life, to be honest,” Bird said.
Breanna Stewart led all scorers with 28, while Bird finished with 22, and Alysha Clark a mirrored double-double with both 13 points and rebounds. All five Phoenix starters ended the night in double figures, with a team-high 21 for Brittney Griner, and a playoff career-high 19 from Yvonne Turner.
Turner’s performance was the story early on, with 15 of those points coming in the first-half, to help stake Phoenix to a 46-41 lead at the break. That advantage had been a key for the Mercury throughout the year, with a 20-0 record entering the night when up at halftime.
Phoenix led by as many as eight in the third, before an 8-0 Seattle run — capped by a Clark 3-pointer — tied the score at 57 with just under three minutes to go in the quarter.
Seattle took its first lead of the night on a Jordin Canada three with 8:20 to play, while a Bird three with four minutes left would prove to put the Storm up for good.
But while Bird’s scoring punch helped Seattle pull away in the closing minutes, it was the efforts of Sami Whitcomb off the bench that gave the team a boost down the stretch. The UW product was on the floor for the entirety of the final quarter, with Hughes opting for her over All-Star Jewell Loyd.
“This series has been a grind I think for both teams … and then you just inject Sami and she’s like the Tasmanian devil out there,” Bird said. “We needed that. It really raised all of our energy levels. On top of that, she hit some shots, got some big loose balls and really was huge for us.”
That move wasn’t without Loyd’s blessing, either.
“The thing that made me so confident was that I walked down the bench and I said to Jewell Loyd, ‘You stay ready,’ and she said, ‘No, Sami is going, you let her go, coach.'” Hughes said. “She was all about the team. That was the moment that I knew that we were going to find success. When the totality of what you’re doing is greater than your own place.”
For Phoenix, the series provides lessons learned for 2019. Mercury head coach Sandy Brondello said she was happy with her team’s fight throughout, but that the rigorous playoff schedule may have caught up with them.
“We probably just need a little more depth,” she said. “We finished fifth so we had to play two extra games, we didn’t get a whole week’s rest and I think tonight maybe that would have showed. What we learned for next year is that we’ve got to keep everyone healthy and have to get a top four seed.”
For Seattle, the season lives on, as the Storm takes on a Washington team it beat twice in the regular season, while falling in their most recent matchup last month. Game 1 is Friday night (6 p.m. PT) at the Key.
A return to the Finals isn’t something Bird was sure she would experience again in her career.
“We started a rebuild and there was no telling when we’d get on the other side of it,” she said. “It’s not that my hunger for it went away or my motivation. Clearly I wanted to stay at the top of my game and wanted to help this franchise get on the other side of this rebuild, but the Finals? That was very far from my imagination so to be here now, in some ways, is probably sweeter than the other two. Just because I didn’t think it was going to happen, but here we are.”
- Attendance: 8,992.
- Faces in the Crowd: Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan, Sonics icon Slick Watts, UW product and longtime NBA guard Nate Robinson, and Basketball Hall of Famer Lenny Wilkens were all on hand.
- All three games of the series at KeyArena finished with a combined point total of 178 points (91-87 in Games 1 and 2, 94-84 in Game 5).