SEATTLE (AP) – Sue Bird was on the brink of seeing maybe her last good chance at getting to the WNBA Finals evaporate. She was playing with a broken nose, her team was playing from behind for almost all of Game 5, and against her rival and friend that never loses in these situations.
And to make matters worse, Bird couldn’t find her shot, missing eight consecutive attempts.
It made what Bird accomplished during a 5-minute stretch of the fourth quarter on Tuesday night in lifting the Seattle Storm past the Phoenix Mercury 94-84 in Game 5 one of the best performances of her career at any level. She scored 14 of her 22 points in a brilliant closing statement that allowed Seattle to finally shake its longtime rivals and send Diana Taurasi to her first career loss in a winner-take-all game after 13 wins.
“This is up there,” Bird said. “I don’t know that I’ve had a fourth quarter like this in as big of a game in my life.”
Bird made 5 of 6 shots in the final 6 minutes as Seattle overcame an 11-point first half deficit and advanced to the finals for the third time in franchise history. Bird has been there for each of those finals trips; the previous two bringing Seattle the two league titles it owns.
It was appropriate the longest tenured Storm player was the one lifting Seattle back to the championship series, with plenty of help from league MVP Breanna Stewart, who had a game-high 28 points. Seattle will face Washington in the finals. Game 1 is Friday.
“To be here now in some ways is probably sweeter than the other two just because I didn’t think it was going to happen. But here we are,” Bird said.
Bird’s scoring spurt was part of an 18-6 run where she combined with Stewart to score all the points that finally gave Seattle control. She knocked down a trio of 3-pointers and added a pullup jumper. The last 3 of the run came with 2:51 left and gave Seattle an 84-76 lead. She added one last 3-pointer in the final minute as Seattle outscored Phoenix 35-21 in the fourth quarter.
“Sue came in and was just Sue Bird. I think that’s why she is who she is,” Seattle coach Dan Hughes said. “Not only does she carry herself and compete in a certain way, she’s ready for big moments.”
Stewart carried the scoring load through the first three quarters until Bird took over late. Alysha Clark added 13 points and Sami Whitcomb provided a spark with 11 off the bench.
Taurasi finished with 17 points, but the Mercury were unable to overcome losing the first two games of the series in Seattle. Brittney Griner led Phoenix with 21 points but had just three in the fourth quarter. Yvonne Turner matched her career high with 19 points, but was scoreless in the fourth quarter.
“They did a good job on (Griner). They had three people around her every time she caught (the ball),” Phoenix coach Sandy Brondello said. “We had a lot of open looks. The difference is Seattle made those looks, we did not.
It looked good for Phoenix early, jumping to a 10-point lead in the opening minutes and leading by 11 points midway through the second quarter. But Seattle chipped away, pulled even late in the third quarter and eventually taking its first lead on Jordin Canada’s 3-pointer with 8:20 remaining to go ahead 66-63.
That’s when Bird took over.
“Probably one of the best little stints of basketball I’ve seen her play. But that’s what she can do,” Taurasi said. “She can probably do that more often. But she’s the consummate point guard. She always wants to get everyone else involved. That’s routine Sue to me. But it was incredible really; just an incredible performance by her.”
Among the Seattle basketball luminaries in attendance were Nate Robinson, Slick Watts and Hall of Famer Lenny Wilkens. … Whitcomb had scored in double figures only two times in the regular season. … Phoenix was 8 of 28 on 3-pointers but four of those came in the first 4 minutes of the game. … Seattle outscored Phoenix 18-2 in bench points.
Bird didn’t think there would be major issue playing with the broken nose having done it four times previous in her career, and three previous times during the WNBA season. Bird is now 20-15 overall and 6-5 in the playoffs wearing a protective mask.
Seattle went 2-1 against the Mystics during the regular season, winning a pair of close games at home but getting routed 100-77 in Washington