Seattle sits near the top of the league standings, but the team has the same start last year before going 1-4 in its next five games.
Sue Bird is experiencing a bit of déjà vu and she doesn’t like it.
The 17-year WNBA veteran isn’t interested in hearing anything flattering about the Storm and its rapid rise to the top of the WNBA.
At 4-1, Seattle is tied for the most wins with the Washington Mystics, the team it beat 81-77 on Tuesday night. The Storm is in a tie with Washington for second place in the 12-team standings, percentage points behind Connecticut (3-0).
That’s great news, right?
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Not so fast, said Bird.
“We haven’t done anything,” the Hall-of-Fame bound point guard deadpanned Wednesday, a day before Thursday’s 7 p.m. game at KeyArena against Las Vegas (0-3). “What have we done? We beat Washington without Elena Delle Donne and Natasha Cloud. So what? They had eight people. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not Negative Nancy who can’t look at our team and understand that we’re playing at a high level and that we’ve done a lot of good things.
“But we’ve also done some bad things too. If we’d lost to Chicago, we’d be having a different conversation right now. … My point is five games in a 34-game season is nothing. There’s been so many stories throughout the league where teams have started off poorly and ended up in the Finals. Or teams starting out great and not making the playoffs.”
At this time last year, Seattle finished the first month of the season at 4-1 and tied with eventual WNBA champion Minnesota for the best record in the league.
Then the Storm figuratively fell off the cliff — a three-month tumble to mediocrity that ultimately cost former coach Jenny Boucek her job and ushered in a slew of offseason changes.
Following its 4-1 start, Seattle went 1-4 in the next five games. The Storm posted a 2-7 record in June and was 4-5 in July to fall out of championship contention and had to scramble for one of the eight playoff berths.
For Bird, 2017 is akin to a bad dream.
“If I were to try to pinpoint what happened, we got off to a hot start and, if memory serves, we played Minnesota right after that and people were starting to talk about us in the same breath because at that point we were two teams with the best records,” Bird said. “We had our own expectations as a team with what we wanted to do, but now, all of a sudden, other people are talking about it as well.
“As much as you try to block that stuff out, as players you hear it. It seeps into the locker room and nobody likes to admit it, but it adds another level of pressure that everyone has to deal with in their own way.”
The Storm went 0-4 in games decided by 10 points or fewer during a two-week stretch, which star forward Breanna Stewarts admits unsettled the team’s confidence.
“I remember Minnesota came in here and punched us in the mouth, and we never really recovered from that,” she said, referring to a 100-77 loss in early June. “Then we lost some close games, which could have gone either way. Once that happened, we kind of lost our way and it took us way too long before we got settled.”
After starting 4-1, Seattle went 6-15 and fired Boucek on Aug. 10 during a four-game losing streak. Gary Kloppenburg, who was elevated to interim coach, guided the Storm to a 5-3 finish and the eighth postseason seed.
Seattle (15-19) lost in the first round of the playoffs for the second straight year.
“Every great team has had to fail at some point in order to be successful,” Bird said. “All of the teams in this league that have won multiple championships, they didn’t come out the gate winning. Sometimes you have to take those hits to understand what it takes to win.
“As quickly as you can go 4-1, you can go 1-4. And the whole objective is not to get too high and not to get too low. It’s one thing to tell somebody that and explain it, but it’s another thing to really buy in, to have felt that and understand what it means to stay even keel. That’s what you have to be in this league.”
Since 2010 when the WNBA condensed to 12 teams and adopted an eight-team playoff format, 26 teams began the season 4-1 or better. Among those, 23 appeared in the playoffs and 12 advanced to the WNBA Finals, including each of the past eight WNBA champions.
Although a fast start hasn’t always led to a great finish.
Last year Atlanta was 4-1 before plummeting to 12-22 and missing the postseason. In 2015 Connecticut began 4-1 and bottomed out to 15-19 while Chicago had an identical start in 2012 before a 14-20 finish.
“It’s such a long road,” said Bird who led the Storm to a 4-1 start in 2010 when the franchise won its second WNBA title. “I know and the team knows from our experiences last year that what we’ve done to this point really doesn’t mean anything.
“Things can sway so easily that you can’t put so much on one game. You have to stay the course.”
• The Storm waived rookie forward Teana Muldrow, a third-round draft pick (29th overall), who appeared in three games during mop-up duty. Seattle also signed Mercedes Russell, a 6-6 rookie center and former All-American at the University of Tennessee who was taken in the second round (22nd overall) by New York in the 2018 draft. Russell averaged 2.5 points and 1.5 rebounds in 16.2 minutes in two games with the Liberty.
Hot start, cold finish
The Storm has started 4-1 for the second straight year. Here’s a look at how things fizzled in 2017.
|First 5 games||4-1|
|Next 5 games||1-4|