Commentary

Bird hits another game winner for Storm

Seattle guard, who hit similar shot to clinch West finals, helps Storm win Game 1

Originally Published: September 12, 2010
By Mechelle Voepel | Special to ESPN.com

SEATTLE -- She really doesn't go back and watch them all. Continued success requires living in the present and looking to the future.

But someday, Seattle guard Sue Bird might take some time to review all the moments when she has been the difference in the clutch. And that will probably take awhile, because there are a lot of them.

Sunday in Game 1 of the WNBA Finals, Bird did it again. Her 18-foot jumper with 2.6 seconds left was the decisive basket for the Storm in a 79-77 victory in front of 15,084 at KeyArena.

[+] EnlargeSue Bird
Terrence Vaccaro/NBAE/Getty ImagesSue Bird had 14 points, eight assists and five rebounds -- and one game-winning shot.

"It was a very tough game, and it came down to the end," Bird said. "I don't think we played our best, but we still got the win. This is the Finals; it's never going to be easy."

But once again, it was Bird who had the last word. How many times have we said that?

As Atlanta coach Marynell Meadors put it, "If you give Sue Bird an open look with the game on the line, nine times out of 10 she's going to make it."

Indeed, Bird has become accustomed to sinking such shots and then answering the ensuing questions about why she's so good in these situations.

For Bird, she might as well be explaining why she's 5 feet, 9 inches. She's that way because … she's that way.

"Definitely for me, that was just something that happened," Bird said of becoming comfortable being the one to make a play when games were on the line and the clock was ticking down. "Whether it's AAU, high school, college, now WNBA … it's just situations I was put in at a very early age. You get more confident the more you do things and the more successful you are at them.

"At this point in my career, it's something that I enjoy. Those situations are fun -- especially when they go in. I was able to get a really good look, and it was a pull-up, which is what I like. And swish."

If you've been watching women's basketball for any amount of time, you know Bird would be on the very, very short list of players you'd most want taking that shot if your life depended on it. And you'd also want the Storm's Lauren Jackson setting the screen for it.

LJ didn't just earn her MVP this season because of her points and rebounds, although she was huge in both those departments, too, Sunday, with 26 and eight. But her value also comes from talents such as anchoring the Storm's defense and setting screens in which she approximates the 1950s sci-fi classic "The Blob." Get near an LJ screen, and it sucks you right in.

[+] EnlargeAngel McCoughtry
Terrence Vaccaro/Getty ImagesAngel McCoughtry, who needed three stitches during the game, had 19 points for Atlanta.

Ask Atlanta guard Armintie Price. She was assigned the task of trying to stick with Bird on that sequence, and smiled ruefully describing what took place.

"We had been trying to go under [screens], and that last possession, I went to go under," Price said. "And Sue came back. And by the time I got ready to come over, Lauren Jackson came down on me, and I wasn't able to come back up and guard [Bird]. That was a tough possession right there."

Bird knows that the 6-foot-5 Jackson seems to grow even bigger on screens. Especially when she can move just a wee bit on them with no interference from those pesky officials, who were doing enough damage to both the Storm and the Dream with stars Swin Cash and Angel McCoughtry in foul trouble much of the game.

And, of course, Bird was also well aware of how the Dream had been trying to defend the Storm.

"They had been going under pick-and-rolls for the majority of the second half," Bird said. "I had a feeling that if I went off the pick and brought it back to the same side that I'd just come from, they were going to be very low, and I was going to be able to get a look.

"I got virtually the same look, 45 seconds to a minute earlier. It just played out well. And once you're in your shooting form, there's nothing else to think about but trying to knock it in."

Seattle coach Brian Agler said of drawing up the Storm's last offensive sequence, "We were just going to let Sue be Sue."

Pretty wise move by Agler, the WNBA's coach of the year. Bird has quite a history of making the big shot at the ends of games, including the winning 3-pointer in the Western Conference finals' Game 2 a week ago against Phoenix. On that basket, she scored on a feed from Tanisha Wright.

This time, Bird just kept the ball in her hands, dribbling down the clock after a Storm timeout with 20.4 seconds left.

"Sue really has a calm disposition, and it helps in tight situations," Agler said. "You know she's the one who has the ability to be in the fray and keep an open mind and take what's given to her.

"I think a lot of times people get one thing in their mind, and they're going to do that no matter what happens, instead of coming through and making a read.

"It's not like you have a lot of time to make a read, but when you play with an open mind like Sue does, usually you're going to make good decisions."

Bird is in her ninth season in the WNBA, plus has several years of international experience, too. So she has been in every situation imaginable. But also, the game has "slowed down" for her. Just like the best veteran quarterbacks say that even as fast as things are moving on a football field, they see them in a kind of slow motion, so the point guard Bird sees the basketball court.

[+] EnlargeLauren Jackson
Terrence Vaccaro/Getty ImagesLauren Jackson scored 14 of Seattle's 28 points in the third quarter as Seattle took a 59-53 lead into the final period.

And on opening weekend in the NFL, Bird made sure Seattle had more to celebrate than just the Seahawks' victory. Tuesday, without the competition of the gridiron, the spotlight on the Storm will be even bigger for Game 2 (ESPN2, 8 p.m. ET).

But the Dream's resolve to even this series will be big, too. Atlanta pushed Game 1 to the wire even though things didn't go all that well for the Dream. McCoughtry was limited to just 6 minutes, 17 seconds in the first half because of foul trouble. Then she played more than 15 minutes in the second half, but was sidelined when she and Seattle's Jana Vesela collided.

McCoughtry went to the locker room for three stitches, but she was back in the game to have a chance at making the final shot. It didn't go, and McCoughtry finished with 19 points, as did teammate Iziane Castro Marques.

"That was a great game. I thought my team showed a lot of courage -- it was very loud," Meadors said of the KeyArena advantage that has the Storm undefeated at 20-0 at home this season. "I was really proud of our team. We fought hard throughout the game. We'll come back Tuesday night and give it our best."

The Storm edged the Dream in the all-important rebounding battle, 36-34, with Lyttle and Little being particularly large on the boards: Sancho Lyttle had 14 rebounds for Atlanta, while Camille Little had 11 for Seattle.

Little also scored 18 points, which was particularly important with Cash limited to nine points and six rebounds while playing just more than 19 minutes.

Bird finished with 14 points, eight assists and five rebounds. And of the Storm's 18 turnovers, only one of them was Bird's -- even though she was on the court more than anyone, nearly 38 minutes.

Jackson, who was in the game just 33 seconds less, has seen her longtime teammate Bird hit many shots like Sunday's game winner. She knows that Bird's shooting percentage seems to skyrocket in the game's final minute. Last week against Phoenix, Bird was 4-of-13 from the floor before nailing the last shot. Sunday, she was 5-of-15 before the final dagger.

What happens the first 39 minutes really doesn't matter. There's nobody you'd rather have taking it in the last minute than Bird.

"I'm happy we won Game 1. It wasn't the prettiest game, and I know we know we can get better from this," Jackson said, then pointing to Bird, she added, "Like last game, I'm pretty happy I've got this person as a teammate. She's a champion."

Mechelle Voepel, a regular contributor to ESPN.com, can be reached at mvoepel123@yahoo.com. Read her blog at voepel.wordpress.com.

Mechelle Voepel joined ESPN.com in 1996 and covers women's college hoops, the WNBA, the LPGA, and additional collegiate sports for espnW.

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