Bird, Jackson just two pieces of puzzle

Originally Published: October 12, 2004
By Mechelle Voepel | Special to ESPN.com

SEATTLE -- In 2000, the Seattle Storm began play in the WNBA. Lauren Jackson was busy that summer playing for Australia in the Summer Olympics in her native country. Sue Bird was coming off an NCAA title with UConn, preparing for her junior season.

Lauren Jackson
APSure, Lauren Jackson's numbers were down. But the Sun's double- and triple-teams opened things up for her Storm teammates.
Within a few years, both women would relocate to Seattle; Jackson the No. 1 draft pick in 2001 and Bird the top pick in 2002. A dark silhouette of the two standing side-by-side is used on Seattle's media guide and has become almost the unofficial logo of the Storm this season.

And certainly, Seattle wouldn't be celebrating a WNBA title -- earned with a 74-60 victory Tuesday night over Connecticut -- without Jackson and Bird.

But they would be the first to say that what was different about this team as opposed to last season's, which didn't make the playoffs, was how well all the other players filled their roles.

There was Betty Lennox and her shake-and-bake offense, strong rebounding and presence on defense. Kamila Vodichkova's physical presence and free-throw line jumper that was used to particular effectiveness Tuesday. Sheri Sam's quickness on the wing (her Sunday defense against Nykesha Sales notwithstanding). Tully Bevilaqua's spark off the bench. Alicia Thompson's mid-range jumper. Janell Burse and Simone Edwards providing good minutes in the post as reserves. Adia Barnes coming in and giving the starters just enough time to get a good rest.

Nobody resented that Jackson and Bird were the "face" of the team. All the Storm players cared about was coming together to win a title.

Tuesday, Lennox was the leading scorer again, following up her 27-point masterpiece Sunday with 23 points. It earned her an MVP award that she said afterward she wanted to have put in her casket when she died.

"This right here is the best," Lennox said. "I will cherish this moment forever."

Lennox, who has eight siblings, grew up on an Oklahoma farm before moving to suburban Kansas City to finish high school. She went to two junior colleges, then transferred to Louisiana Tech, where she sat out one year to improve her grades. At Tech, she went to the Final Four and the Elite Eight.

Kamila Vodichkova
APKamila Vodichkova, left, totaled seven points in Games 1 and 2, but netted 14 Tuesday with a free-throw line jumper that took some pressure off Lauren Jackson.
Her WNBA career has been one of several stops, two of them because of teams folding. She has been with Minnesota, Miami, Cleveland and now Seattle.

She might be reluctant to call this city home -- just out of apprehension -- but there's no doubt Seattle is happy to claim her.

However, for much of the first half, Lennox looked like the streaky shooter she can be. She was off the mark, going 2-for-9 from the field. In the second half, though, she settled down, and had two plays that were really the final dagger for Connecticut.

First was a fall-away jump shot with 6:52 left on which she was fouled by Lindsay Whalen. Lennox converted that three-point play, and then 37 seconds later drove the baseline for a layup.

"I think that was the big one," Jackson said of the layup. "The first play got our momentum going, and then the next play we knew we were going to win it."

It had been Vodichkova, though, who had provided several of the big plays in the first half. She scored 10 of 14 points on one run. Storm coach Anne Donovan said she'd been wanting Vodichkova to get that shot and help open things up for Jackson, but it had not really been available until Game 3.

Of course, Jackson spent the entire finals being triple-teamed much of the time. The rare times she was in single coverage, she scored automatically. But while the group defense against her lowered her numbers a bit -- she had 13 points Tuesday -- it left things open for the rest of the Storm players, and Lennox especially took advantage.

Then there was Bird's play. There are people who believe Bird is a bit overrated. What malarkey; those people are crazy. If there is a bottom line on why UConn won NCAA titles in 2000 and 2002 and why Seattle won this title, it's Bird. She knows how to get things done herself, and how to motivate everyone else.

The Storm led just 37-36 at halftime. Bird was the spark in the opening minutes of the second half, scoring eight of the Storm's first 14 points. That included two breakaway layups that were vintage Bird, refusing to be denied the basket.

And remember, this is someone who suffered a broken nose in the first round of the playoffs. She joked Tuesday after the game, "Guess what I did during the celebration? Got hit in the nose again."

So Bird had another bloody Kleenex, but she obviously didn't mind too much. She now has a little time to rest. And toss that mask in the trash.

Meanwhile, the city of Seattle will have some extra trash to pick up -- from the parade the Storm will have. Thanks to Jackson and Bird, and a whole lot of pieces that fit.

Mechelle Voepel of the Kansas City Star is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. She can be reached at mvoepel@kcstar.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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