It was perfect. Too perfect.
Retiring WNBA legend Sue Bird backed up and sank a three-pointer with 1.8 seconds remaining to give the Seattle Storm a two-point lead. They had trailed, by as many as 15, until midway through the third quarter of Game 3 of the WNBA semifinal series.
A’ja Wilson sucked the air out of the room when her layup with 2.9 seconds left gave the Las Vegas Aces a 90-89 advantage, but Climate Pledge Arena was rocking again thanks to Bird. In her 21st Storm season, it was all muscle memory.
“Shoot it,” Bird recalled thinking. “There wasn’t a lot of time.”
With even less than that to work with, a layup from Las Vegas’ Jackie Young survived a review and the teams went to overtime tied at 92.
The extra five minutes belonged completely, relentlessly to the Aces, who won 110-98. Las Vegas leads the best-of-five WNBA semifinal series 2-1, which puts the Storm on the brink.
“That was a helluva game,” Aces coach Becky Hammon said. “I don’t know if I’ve ever been a part of something like that, the back-and-forth and the battle.”
Game 4 is Tuesday night in Seattle.
A Tina Charles assist and Breanna Stewart finish tied the game at 52, then Charles gave the Storm their first lead midway through the third quarter. But Seattle was outscored 16-8 the rest of the third.
Stewart’s driving layup handed the Storm a lead to protect with 54 seconds remaining in the game. Jewell Loyd appeared to seal it at the line.
But up by one with seven seconds left, Seattle’s Charles missed both free throws.
“We were up four with not a lot of time left, and that’s really, for me, where we lost the game,” Bird said. “They probably scored, what, five points in three seconds? That, for me, is where we really let this one go.”
Young slithered to the basket with Ezi Magbegor trailing, hands locked behind her in an apparent effort to avoid a foul. Young was mobbed by teammates.
“All of what happened (at the) end of the game, all of the execution things, that falls on me,” Storm coach Noelle Quinn said.
A buzzing home crowd of 15,431 couldn’t do much to thaw a cold-shooting first quarter that featured four late points from Stewart and none from Loyd. Seattle got a three from Bird after the Aces’ lead hit double digits.
As soon as Magbegor entered the game, she drew back-to-back and-ones for a team-high six points in the first quarter. The sloppiness intensified in the early second. The Aces’ lead ballooned to 15 and hung around that mark.
The Storm were able to hold the Aces – the highest-scoring team on average during the regular season – below 80 points in the series’ first two games. That streak clearly was in danger at halftime, when Seattle trailed 48-40.
Wilson had her second straight 30-point performance, finishing with 34 plus 11 rebounds and three steals for the Aces. Chelsea Gray was right behind with 29 points and a game-high 12 assists.
Coming off a 32-point performance in Game 2, Stewart’s streak of eight straight 20-point playoff performances wouldn’t have hit nine if not for overtime. She turned in exactly 20 and 15 rebounds.
Seattle’s Gabby Williams returned to the starting lineup after missing Games 1 and 2 while in concussion protocol. She played more than 23 minutes with six points, three assists and two rebounds.
“She helped us tremendously,” Quinn said. “I know she has to get back her wind a little bit.”
Bird tacked on eight assists to go with 17 points. Through the first five playoff games, Bird has recorded 38 assists and just two turnovers. She’s the first player in WNBA history to hit 30 assists with fewer than five turnovers in a postseason.
Teams have split the first two games of a best-of-five WNBA playoff series 14 times. Historically, Game 3 isn’t much of an indicator of who will win the series. The team that prevails has only an 8-6 all-time advantage.
“We’re playing against a Seattle team that’s been here before, that can wait out the Storm – no pun intended. They know,” Wilson said. “The biggest thing is for us to be mentally tough in those situations.
“Game 4’s not going about to be easy. Game 3 damn sure wasn’t easy.”