Finals another high point for women's game

Originally Published: October 12, 2004
By Nancy Lieberman | Special to ESPN.com

SEATTLE -- The Sun made a run. And Seattle was in trouble.

Sue Bird
APAfter playing a passive first half, Sue Bird set the tone in the second, leading the Storm to the WNBA title.
After building a 10-point lead midway through the first half Tuesday in Game 3 of the WNBA Finals, Seattle went cold. Connecticut chipped away at the lead and trailed by only one point at halftime.

But just when you thought the Sun might have stolen the momentum for good, Sue Bird almost single-handedly brought the Storm back to life.

Bird's performance in Game 1 was forgettable. She was better in Game 2 on Sunday, but still a bit off. In the second half Tuesday, she returned to her old form. And while yes, Betty Lennox deserved the WNBA Finals MVP award, Sue Bird's impeccable leadership also was a big part of the Storm's 74-60 WNBA title-clinching win that brought Seattle its first professional sports title in 25 years.

Seattle opened the game playing extremely well, but one thing was missing: Bird's aggressiveness. She attempted just three shots and failed to score a point in the first half. Bird committed only one turnover, but she was passive, didn't take charge of Seattle's offense and was a nonfactor.

After the break, however, Bird was magnificent and played with renewed energy on both offense and defense. She pushed tempo when it was on, made aggressive, correct decisions with her passes and got Seattle's inside-outside game going again.

Coming out of the break, the Storm led 37-36. But Bird scored eight of the Storm's first 14 points -- including two layups -- and Seattle held Connecticut without a field goal for 12½ minutes to take control of the game for good. Bird finished with eight points (she made all three of her shots in the second half), six assists and five rebounds.

While Connecticut had an answer for Bird early on in the series, the Sun never came close to containing Betty Lennox. Coach Mike Thibault did a masterful job getting his team prepared in the finals, but realistically, the Sun staff probably never expected Lennox to take over the series.

But Lennox had the best week of her career, and her biggest strength -- she's a slasher and really the only player for Seattle who can consistently create her own shot -- was just too much for the Sun to handle. Nobody could guard her off the dribble, and like all streaky players, Lennox got confident and just rolled with it. It was a real joy to watch her play in this series.

Tully Bevilaqua
Getty ImagesTully Bevilaqua and Seattle had plenty to be pumped about en route to winning their first WNBA crown.
The same can be said for Seattle's Lauren Jackson. Forget the criticism -- she's a star and her interior defense was the difference in Tuesday's game. If a Sun player got by the Storm's guards, Jackson didn't let her get far in the middle. After sinking 74 percent from downtown in the Western Conference finals, Jackson had a target on her back, and everybody expected her to duplicate those numbers. That rarely happens in a series of this magnitude, but don't think she wasn't a consistent factor in the finals.

It was also great to see Kamila Vodichkova, who had struggled so much in Games 1 and 2, finally knock down some shots. Her points were vital, and we've said all along that Seattle would have been a playoff team a year ago if Vodichkova hadn't gotten injured late in the regular season.

And Seattle's defense just doesn't get enough credit. The Storm once again prevented Lindsay Whalen from penetrating into the paint, which really hurt the Sun's transition game. Seattle contested every shot, rotated really well on defense and, if someone got by, put up a solid second line of defense. The Storm continuously forced Connecticut to pass the ball back out and shut down the slash to the basket, forcing the Sun into being a jump-shooting team.

Really, though, there's a lot to be proud of as this series and season come to an end. The home crowd was incredible and truly gave the Storm the homecourt advantage. And Anne Donovan, the first female to coach a team to the WNBA title, is a winner every step of the way. It was just a matter of time before she hoisted the championship trophy.

Thibault and Connecticut also deserve a lot of credit for making this such a tremendously competitive series. Nykesha Sales really came with the goods, Asjha Jones was solid off the bench and Katie Douglas -- who has probably never missed every field goal she put up in one game -- did have a good series.

This is truly a high point for women's basketball.

Nancy Lieberman, an ESPN analyst and Hall of Famer, is a regular contributor to ESPN.com's women's basketball coverage. Contact her at www.nancylieberman.com.

Nancy Lieberman

Basketball analyst / Writer
Nancy Lieberman, one of the most recognized individuals in women's basketball, is a men's and women's basketball analyst for ESPN. She works on ESPN and ESPN2's coverage of men's and women's college basketball, plus the WNBA and writes for ESPN.com.

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