Late call looms large as Seattle takes 2-0 series lead

Jewell Loyd beats the entire Mystics defense to score. Neil Enns/Storm Photos.
Jewell Loyd beats the entire Mystics defense to score. Neil Enns/Storm Photos.

Seattle – Sue Bird knew there would be a text message on her phone when she got back to the locker room after her team’s 75-73 win over Washington on Sunday.

In the closing seconds of Game 2 of the WNBA Finals — with Seattle up by one — she knocked the ball out of Kristi Toliver’s hands as the 10-year veteran drove past her on the baseline, with the ensuing scrum on the floor forcing a jump ball call from the officials.

Toliver believes she was fouled.

“I think it was pretty blatant, it was pretty obvious,” she said after the game. “Sue is smart, she knows they have one foul to give. They wanted to foul before I could be in a shooting motion. I wish the officials had a little more basketball IQ like Sue does.”

But one player’s blatant foul is another’s signature move, as coined by UConn associate head coach Chris Dailey.

“I’ve been doing that swipe-around-the-back thing since I was like 18 years old,” Bird said. “She absolutely hates it. She calls it the, ‘Sue Bird move.’ In fact, when she does scouting reports, she will say, like, ‘Watch out for so-and-so, they do the Sue Bird move.'”

And when she did it on Sunday, it didn’t go unnoticed.

“Literally, the minute I walked in the locker room I checked my phone, I knew I was going to have a text message about it,” she said. “Sure enough, congratulations, you did the
Sue Bird move.”

Natasha Howard grabs the jump ball to secure the Storm win. Neil Enns/Storm Photos.
Natasha Howard grabs the jump ball to secure the Storm win. Neil Enns/Storm Photos.

After “the move” or uncalled foul — depending on who you ask — Natasha Howard elevated over Tianna Hawkins to tip the ball into the hands of Jewell Loyd, as the Storm took five of the remaining seven seconds off the clock before Washington could foul. Alysha Clark split a pair of free throws, and Ariel Atkins’ half-court heave was well off the mark, as Seattle pulled within one win of the franchise’s third WNBA championship.

Breanna Stewart had 25 points to lead all scorers in front of a crowd of over 14,000 at KeyArena, while Jewell Loyd finished with 13 as the only other Storm player in double-figures, and Natasha Howard fell just short of a double-double with eight points and game-high 13 rebounds.

Elena Delle Donne led the Mystics with 17 points, aided by 15 points each from Toliver and Atkins.

Game 2 looked much like the first in the opening quarter, as Seattle pushed the tempo behind 11 points from Stewart to lead by nine after 10 minutes. But Delle Donne was the story of the second, with 10 of her team’s 24 in the quarter to give the Mystics a 40-36 edge at the break.

Neither side lead by more than five in the third, before baskets by Loyd and Stewart to open the fourth put Seattle ahead for good. But that advantage was tenuous down the stretch, with the Mystics never more than two possessions off the lead.

“Washington is an incredible team,” said Storm head coach Dan Hughes. “You are not going to separate very much.”

Kristi Toliver looks to beat Alysha Clark's defense. Neil Enns/Storm Photos.
Kristi Toliver looks to beat Alysha Clark’s defense. Neil Enns/Storm Photos.

Down three with just over 30 seconds to play, a Toliver fadeaway cut the gap to one. Stewart then missed a pair of free throws, and Hawkins grabbed the rebound on the second, which gave the Mystics possession with a chance to take the lead with 16.9 seconds remaining.

That brings us back to the “Sue Bird move.”

Mystics head coach Mike Thibault was convinced Seattle’s plan was to take its remaining foul to give, and that officials just didn’t see it.

“Sue Bird took the foul and the officials didn’t understand that Seattle was actually trying to take a foul, and then the ball gets knocked loose on the floor,” he said.

Bird said she was well-aware of the foul situation, but insists that wasn’t her intention.

“I lunged out a little bit, which kind of gave her that pathway to get down the baseline, and once she went by me, I did the good ol’ Sue Bird move and was lucky to get a piece of the ball,” she said.

Hughes didn’t see a foul on the play either.

“If anything, I thought we had a time-out called because I thought we had possession of that,” he said.

Breanna Stewart elevates over Kristi Toliver to score. Neil Enns/Storm Photos.
Breanna Stewart elevates over Kristi Toliver to score. Neil Enns/Storm Photos.

Regardless of that final possession, Washington was again hurt by poor shooting throughout the night, as a team that shot 36 percent from behind the arc in the regular season went 0-for-16 from 3-point range. That’s a figure that led Toliver to utter an expletive after the game.

“That’s a huge factor in the game, too,” she said. “As a three-point shooting team, we need some of those to go in.”

The series now heads to Washington, D.C. (ish) as the Mystics host the Storm at EagleBank Arena on the campus of George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. for Game 3 on Wednesday night. Tip-off is set for 5 p.m. PT on ESPN2.

Dribbles:

  • Attendance: 14,212.
  • Faces in the Crowd: Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan and NBA great Nate Robinson have both been on hand for much of the Storm’s playoff run and were at the Key again on Sunday, along with Pearl Jam frontman Eddie Vedder.
  • Seattle has now won seven consecutive WNBA Finals games, dating back to Game 2 of the 2004 Finals against Connecticut.
  • The Storm improved to 5-0 at home in the postseason.
  • Natasha Howard moved into a tie for eighth place on the all-time list, playing in her 16th Finals game.
  • Sue Bird passed Diana Taurasi for second place on the WNBA’s playoff assists list.