In the twilight of a season and multiple careers, the Seattle Storm were reminded Sunday that every second matters. Sue Bird’s 21-year WNBA rule could end Tuesday night if the Storm can’t recover quickly from the shock and misery of Game 3.
With just .8 seconds left on the clock, Las Vegas’ Chelsea Gray found Jackie Young for a buzzer-beater that forced overtime, where the Aces seemingly couldn’t miss and the Storm couldn’t keep pace. Seattle dropped 110-98 at home.
A loss on Tuesday night at Climate Pledge Arena would end Seattle’s run and send the Aces to the Finals.
“Our backs are now against the wall, if you will, and it’s win or go home,” Breanna Stewart said.
Las Vegas leads the best-of-five series 2-1. Rallying for a home split, as the Aces did in Games 1 and 2, will buy more time for Spokane native Briann January and Bird, who have announced their intentions to retire after the season. The hope is that comes after a WNBA championship — Bird’s fifth, January’s second.
The Storm had Monday to process the improbable collapse. The final second was the talk of the postgame, but Bird pointed out the trouble started sooner. Seattle led 89-85 with less than 12 seconds remaining off a pair of Jewell Loyd free throws.
“I understand the last plays are going to stick out because they’re dramatic and exciting and I’m sure it was great TV,” Bird said. “But we were up (by) four.
“You just have to find a way to kind of put this one behind you and move on.”
Aces guard Riquna Williams tightened the game back up with a three-pointer, and it stayed that way after two missed Seattle free throws.
Bird’s last-second heroics made the outcome even more crushing for the home crowd. Sprung loose by a Stewart screen, Bird dove for the corner and launched a three-pointer, a satisfying phrase in the final chapter of her two-decade Storm tenure. During that stretch she also won five Olympic gold medals and four FIBA World Cups.
The Aces called a timeout and drew up the play that went off without a hitch. In the meantime, Bird said the Storm group discussed “having a foul to give” that ultimately wasn’t received.
“That is difficult to defend, especially when she was going right into her shooting motion,” Storm coach Noelle Quinn, who took the blame for the execution in the final stretch, said.
Quinn acknowledged several contributing factors, including emotional letdown and fatigue.
“We had that momentum. We wanted it to be done and it wasn’t,” she said.
Las Vegas would host Game 5, if necessary, on Thursday.
Note: Seattle’s Jantel Lavender missed Game 3 with what was termed a non-COVID illness. On Monday she was no longer on the injury list.