The Sue Bird farewell tour continued with a bang Sunday afternoon in Brooklyn, and Gabby Williams made sure the Storm star secured a win in her last game in the Big Apple.
Williams tallied a season-high 23 points, nine rebounds and three assists while Breanna Stewart added 18 points and nine rebounds to lead Seattle to an 81-72 win over the New York Liberty.
And the 41-year-old Bird, who announced she’s retiring after the season, finished with 11 points on 4-for-9 shooting, including three three-pointers, and four assists in a game she’ll never forget.
“It’s no Kobe Bryant dropping 60, but it feels pretty good,” said a smiling Bird, who was cheered and revered during a two-hour lovefest by the crowd of 6,859 at the Barclays Center. “To be honest, it wasn’t about the game. It wasn’t about how I played. It was really about soaking it all in, enjoying the moment and knowing there’s people here that … have been so instrumental in my journey to get to where I’m sitting right now. It was really about that.
“And then once the ball gets tipped, you play to win. I would have taken the win even if I would have had zero points, zero assists and 10 turnovers. I would have been thrilled. It wouldn’t have mattered. … A fairy-tale ending would have been 30 points and 20 assists, but this felt pretty much like a fairy tale.”
The pregame festivities were all about Bird, who grew up about 30 miles away in Syosset, New York, and played her last game in her home state in front of a large contingent of family and friends.
During warmups, the Liberty players wore black T-shirts that read: “Thank you, Sue. Love, New York.” And several fans clad in Storm gear carried signs that read, “Sue York City” and “Sue Bird: Hometown Hero.”
Before the game, Liberty players Natasha Howard and Sami Whitcomb, who won a pair of WNBA titles with Bird in Seattle, gave her a New York-themed jersey and jacket during a midcourt presentation.
And Bird was nearly brought to tears by a pregame video montage honoring the WNBA’s all-time assists leader, which included her fiancée Megan Rapinoe, former WNBA president Val Ackerman and sports celebrities Billie Jean King, Nancy Lieberman, Swin Cash and Steve Nash.
“It was really special right from warmups,” Bird said. “Once I looked in the crowd, there were tons of Seattle jerseys and I saw tons of posters, so of course, thank you to all of those fans. And they were definitely cheering for us. It was just special. It was a special, special day. To cap it off with a win.
“I couldn’t have written this any better. It’s been a really fun day.”
Bird received big assists from Williams, Stewart and Ezi Magbegor (10 points and five rebounds) who made this a homecoming to remember.
Jewell Loyd (nine points on 3-for-16 shooting) finished with a season-high tying seven assists, but she struggled to score for a second straight game after connecting on 3 of 10 shots for eight points on Friday.
It hardly mattered because Williams made up the difference while producing her finest performance as a Storm. The versatile 5-foot-11 forward consistently scored with a variety of dribble drive layups and perimeter shots to break out of a season-long scoring slump.
Williams previous season high was nine points and she tallied the most points since notching a personal best 26 on June 8, 2018, as a rookie with the Chicago Sky.
“I felt like the way we were flowing and moving today, it helped me a lot,” said Williams, who attempted a career-high 15 field goals and converted 10, which tied a personal best. “I’m really thankful my teammates have been very supportive and positive with me and patient and understanding even when I’m not so much with myself. I really just give it to my teammates for holding my hand and letting me get here.”
Williams scored 14 points and Stewart had 11 to carry the Storm to a 39-37 lead at halftime.
Seattle led 45-37 early in the third quarter when New York used a 13-4 run to go up 50-49 after Marine Johannes’ three-pointer.
Midway in the fourth, Stewart’s three-point play unlocked a tie and gave the Storm a 66-63 lead they would not surrender.
Johannes (23 points and five three-pointers) drilled another three-pointer to pull the Liberty to 73-72 when Williams answered with two clutch baskets — a driving finger roll layup and a dagger three-pointer on the right side with 53.7 seconds left that put the game away.
Perhaps fittingly, Bird capped the scoring and beat the shot clock buzzer with a three-pointer from the top of the arc that rattled out of the rim and bounced high off the glass before falling in as the crowd erupted in cheers.
“Normally, I’m not big on scoring, but that three-pointer at the end, I will remember that forever,” Bird said. “My teammates were making fun of me because I held my follow through. It was bouncing around and I knew it needed it. I can’t say anything else other than it was a special day, and I want to thank everyone who helped make it special.”
During the final seconds, the Barclays Center crowd serenaded Bird one last time with a standing ovation as she waved from the sideline and said, “Thank you.”
“There was a moment when I wanted to start clapping,” coach Noelle Quinn said. “Sue means the world to our game and obviously to the city. To have the fans come out and support her even though it’s an away game, it’s just a testament to who she is and what she stands for and how impactful she’s been in our game. She should get her roses and her flowers. She should get celebrated every second the rest of this season and we should feel honored to be part of this journey with her.
“Being in the Mecca of basketball in New York and having this stage and being on ESPN today, all of those things allowed for her to be celebrated in a positive way. What an amazing day to be a part of.”
After the game, Bird, a lifelong New York Knicks fan, had fun trolling the Brooklyn crowd during an on-court interview with ESPN’s Holly Rowe.
“I do have one last thing to say – I don’t think the Brooklyn fans are going to like it – bing bong,” Bird said in reference to the Knicks’ rallying cry.
Sabrina Ionescu had 12 points, 10 assists and eight rebounds while Howard and Whitcomb each had 11 points for the Liberty (6-10).
Meanwhile, Seattle (10-6) wrapped up its longest road trip of the season with a 4-1 record and returns home for four straight games.
“Four and one on a road trip is never easy,” Bird said. “What we’re going to take away from it is we have that in us. We have the ability to win games when they’re tight at the end.”