and by Sue Favor
Sue Bird knows a thing or two about the All-Star experience. After all, she’s been to 10 of them.
But Saturday was different: No. 10 was at home. And Bird and the rest of the veteran-laden West team got down to business in the second half to put away the young East squad, 130-121. Bird said this year’s WNBA All-Star game was especially memorable.
“You can’t compare them,” Bird said. “This one for me is always going to be special, it’s always going to be better than the other ones, and that’s just because I know how much it means to the city, I know how much it means to myself, to the franchise, and it was a lot of fun.”
Bird, who has played all of her 16 years in the league with the Seattle Storm, finished with eight points and an All-Star game record 11 assists, while Maya Moore scored 23 points, Nneka Ogwumike, 22 and Candace Parker, 13 in front of 15,221 loud fans at KeyArena. Moore was given the game’s MVP trophy – her second in a row.
But much of the buzz after the game surrounded the break-out performance of first-time All-Star Jonquel Jones. The second-year forward for the Connecticut Sun had 24 points on 10-of-15 shooting and nine rebounds in 21 minutes. She also threw down a dunk in the game’s closing minutes.
“I just wanted to go out, have fun, be safe, but still play hard, and so it was great to be able to go out there, play against some players that I’ve watched growing up looking up to, and now I’m on the same court as them,” she said after the game.
It was a performance her coach, both on Saturday and throughout the season, Curt Miller, was happy to see.
“She’s an amazing young talent for this league,” he said. “She’s only going to get better and better, but she can do a little bit of everything as was on display today. Really happy for her and proud, and look for her game to just keep growing.
Layshia Clarendon had 14 points and 10 assists for the East, while Candice Dupree and Allie Quigley also each scored 14 points.
The two teams played it close through the first half, tied at 64 at the break, and were even at 79 with less than four minutes to go in the third, before a 17-6 run gave the West a double-digit lead heading into the final quarter.
A jumper, steal, and three-pointer in the first 20 seconds of the fourth by Clarendon quickly cut that gap to six, but the East got no closer. Jones’ dunk put a capper on the day.
“We don’t even see [that] often in practice,” Miller said.
Despite the looseness and camaraderie of the game, Skylar Diggins-Smith said the West took things up a few notches after halftime.
“It’s still a game and people are competitive, and I know every woman in that other locker room is competitive,” she said. “The first half was a little more laid back, but we had an agreement that we would play to win, and things escalated quickly in the second half. It was fun.”
Sylvia Fowles joked that the West team had to let members of the East, which had eight All-Star game newcomers, know who was boss.
“It was all fun and games for the first half, and then everybody was like, ‘yo, look!’ You can’t give them that sense that they can beat you,” Fowles said.
The first-timers worked to find the balance between having fun and being competitive. Clarendon said Fowles reminded her of that on the court.
“Sylvia (Fowles) was like, ‘You’re playing so fast! I’m not trying to run that much. We’re old,'” Clarendon said. “I was just trying to make the game fun for everybody. I was just trying to get some fun assists out there and finding people for three’s.”
Dupree was confident both teams had given fans a great experience.
“I liked that the game was close for the majority of the time, it wasn’t a blowout one way or the other,” she said. “I like this group that was here. They didn’t really know what to expect.”
While Bird had the honor of another All-Star Game appearance, the spectacle was also a way to reward the fan base in Seattle, which has always been a strong city for women’s basketball. Bird was introduced to deafening calls of “Suuuuuuue!” The moment wasn’t lost on her.
“They were amazing, as per usual,” she said. “These fans, really passionate about basketball, really passionate about the WNBA, and in a lot of ways I feel like having the All-Star Game is a reward for them also, they get to see the best on their home court.”
East team members Allie Quigley and Sugar Rodgers battled it out at halftime in the three-point shooting contest – the first since 2009. Quigley won with a final round score of 27 points.
A cast of past and present sports greats in attendance included Hall of Famers Bill Russell and Lenny Wilkens, former Seattle Supersonics Fred Brown, Gus Williams, the Seattle Seahawks’ Richard Sherman, Isaiah Thomas of the Boston Celtics and U.S. women’s soccer star Megan Rapinoe.
Six players on both the East and West teams scoring in double figures and the young East squad holding their own is a good sign, according to Dupree.
“They’re good,” she said of her East teammates. “Having played against them in regular games is tough enough, but they’re extremely talented, extremely athletic. The league is going to look good in future years.”