Aces put a bittersweet twist on Storm’s storybook series, but there’s still time to write a better ending | Storm
In a perfect world, the Seattle Storm playoff game on Sunday would have ended in the most romantic way possible. Everything was written, ready to be printed – a plot from here to eternity.
The storm was less than a second away from an emotional masterpiece. It was a finish that would have made a perfect culminating scene for the biopic they will one day make about Sue Bird’s glittering WNBA career. Game 3 of the playoff semifinals has accrued as one of the most exhilarating triumphs by any Seattle basketball team, at any level, of all time. The roar inside the Climate Pledge Arena was seismic.
But then real life intervened, as it has a bad habit of doing. And instead of a rousing, heartbreaking and heartwarming win to set the Storm on the verge of yet another trip to the Finals – and punctuate Bird’s final days of play with one more signature moment, perhaps his fulfillment by John Hancock – the Storm was heartbroken and reeling.
Seattle lost 110-98 to the Las Vegas Aces in overtime, pulling the loss from the jaws of the Magic and putting them on the brink of elimination. The hard-fought game – a 45-minute ode to the art of women’s basketball – was about to miraculously end in regulation when Bird incredibly drained a three-pointer from the corner with 1.8 seconds left.
It gave the Storm, who had trailed by as much as 15 points in the first half, a 92-90 lead, and delighted the crowd of 15,431. Much of this Seattle season has been focused on Bird’s march to retirement, a journey mirrored this week in the world of tennis by Serena Williams. And when the Aces called time out with eight tenths of a second remaining, with the full-throated roar still echoing through Climate Pledge, it seemed like she had outdone herself. Everything was over except the party.
The Aces, however, had a different idea. With their coach, Becky Hammon, crafting the perfect play, Vegas somehow released Jackie Young under the basket for a lightning-fast layup when time expired. The Storm were unable to deliver the foul they had left to give as the game proceeded at lightning speed.
It was an epic buzzer-beater, and the ultimate buzzkill. There is no doubt that the massive disappointment – which was written on the exhausted and shocked faces of the Seattle players – affected the Storm in overtime. The Aces abruptly turned what had been a dramatic home-and-away game into a rout with an 18-6 run for a two-to-one lead in the best-of-five series.
“It was really frustrating,” said Stewart, who suffered the first home loss of his playoff career. “We had the game. And we gave it to them. And that’s really all.
Now, Bird will face the latest in a string of games on Tuesday that could be his last in Seattle. With everyone lamenting Young’s tying basket, Bird wisely pointed to the Storm’s failure to bury the Aces when they amassed an 89-85 lead with 11.3 seconds left to see the Aces come back strong .
“You know, there were four of us with little time,” Bird said. “And it was really for me that we lost the game, letting them take the lead. That means they scored, what? Five points in three seconds? For me, that’s where we really dropped this one. I understand that the last pieces are going to stand out because they are dramatic and exciting. And I’m sure it was great TV. But there were four of us.
Bird barely allowed himself to address the briefly triumphant shot that would otherwise have been the talk of the town. It was the first time she had hit a three-pointer to give the Storm a lead with less than 10 seconds remaining since 2011, but she dismissed the question when asked what was going through her mind when she got the ball back.
“Shoot it,” she said succinctly.
Storm coach Noelle Quinn took responsibility for the messy finish and the strategic decisions that led to it.
“It’s on me,” Quinn said. “I’m going to take it on the head. Everything that happened at the end of the game, all of our runtime things, that’s on my mind. … I will take the blame for everything.
The Storm’s gloom contrasted with the giddy mood of the Aces. Chelsea Gray, who had a superb game with 29 points and 12 assists along with 34 points and 11 rebounds for A’ja Wilson, noted the emotional swings that prevailed during the two hours and five minutes the teams were in the field.
“There was so much back and forth – ‘Oh, no, they’re going to win. Oh, we’re going to win it. Now we’re going to work overtime,'” Gray said with a laugh.
And when did he actually go into overtime?
“Yeah, that was a lot of momentum,” Gray said. “We said in huddle that the momentum was on our side right now. It was deflating for the home side. We were ready. We got locked out for those five minutes.
Hammon said she expected the Storm, after a tough Game 3 loss, to come out with “fierceness” on Sunday. The storm, she said, “always going to have a run. They never go away.”
And now Seattle’s season and Bird’s career come down to one more game. Perhaps the storybook is yet to be written. Or slam shut.