Future Hall of Famers face off for perhaps their last time in the WNBA playoffs when the Storm plays at Phoenix on Wednesday.
Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi.
From Connecticut to Russia, and from the Summer Olympics to the World Championships, they’ve won a dozen titles together since first teaming up and headlining a team-for-the ages UConn Huskies squad that went 39-0 and captured the NCAA women’s basketball national title in 2002.
This summer the Hall of Fame-bound cohorts etched their names into the WNBA records as the league’s all-time assists (Bird) and points (Taurasi) leaders.
Now in the twilight of their careers — but still among the league’s best guards — they meet for just the fourth and perhaps final time in the WNBA playoffs when Bird and the No. 8 seed Storm (15-19) face Taurasi and No. 5 seed Phoenix (18-16) in a single-elimination game at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Wells Fargo Arena.
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“There’s so many amazing things about Diana, but you start with the scoring and her ability to put up points,” Bird said in June when Taurasi passed Tina Thompson for the league’s career scoring record. “But once you get past that, you realize she’s an intense competitor. And that’s the part you can’t measure.
“We can add up the points and she’s No. 1 and will probably be No. 1 for a long, long time. But as someone who’s played with her and unfortunately played against her a few times, her most dangerous quality is her will to win. She’ll do whatever it takes. I’ve seen it, and there’s very few people like that.”
Bird has won two WNBA titles (2004 and ’10) while Taurasi has three (2007, ’09 and ’14). The Phoenix guard holds the playoff edge 2-1.
“The year Seattle won the title (in 2010), that was a battle when Sue and I were both young and feeling good and trading the (WNBA) title just about every year,” Taurasi said in July while referring to the Storm’s 2-0 sweep over the Mercury in the Western Conference Finals. “I’ll never forget those times. … Now we’re a little bit older, but we’re still getting it done.”
At 36, Bird, who is in her 15th season, is the league’s oldest player. Taurasi, 35, has played all 13 WNBA seasons in Phoenix.
Their supporting casts have changed dramatically since their last postseason matchup in 2011.
For the first time in her career, Taurasi, who averages 17.9 points, isn’t Phoenix’s leading scorer. She’s the second option behind Brittney Griner, who won the WNBA scoring title with a career-best 21.9 points per game.
Phoenix also obtained three veterans (guard Danielle Robinson, guard/forward Monique Currie and forward Camille Little) and the Mercury enter the postseason with a three-game winning streak that began with a 75-71 win over the Storm on Aug. 27 at KeyArena.
Meanwhile, Seattle returns to the postseason for the second straight year as the No. 8 seed after losing three of its past four games.
Bird, the consummate playmaker who averaged a career-high 6.6 assists and 10.6 points, is surrounded by scoring options. Breanna Stewart ranked second in the WNBA in scoring (19.9), sixth in rebounding (8.7) and sixth in blocks (1.6).
Stewart, Taurasi and Griner were selected to The Associated Press All-WNBA second team Tuesday. San Antonio’s Kelsey Plum, the former UW Husky, was on the all-rookie team.
Sylvia Fowles headlined the first team. Also on the first team were Tina Charles, Skylar Diggins-Smith, Candace Parker and Nneka Ogwumike.
Storm guard Jewell Loyd, who had a career-high 33 points against the Phoenix last week, was ninth in the WNBA in scoring (17.7) and forward Crystal Langhorne averaged 12.4 points while shooting 64.7 percent from the field.
“The two Hall of Fame players have been playing against each other for a long time, and there’s a few young up-and-coming faces of the league in this game,” said interim coach Gary Kloppenburg, who is 5-3 with the Storm. “I know our team is really excited about not just those matchups, but the matchup against Phoenix.
“We lost a couple of close games in the regular season and we feel like we’re going to be right there to try and get this one down here.”
Phoenix captured the regular-season series 2-1. Each game was decided by single digits and won by the visiting team.