Sue Bird hit about as exciting a three as you could hit in what was potentially the second-to-last home game of a 21-year career, with her team seemingly defeated by A’ja Wilson’s finish at the basket after an uncalled travel 0.9 seconds earlier.
Bird caught Gabby Williams’ inbound pass in the left corner and immediately put the ball up. The trey went in, nothing-but-net, and Climate Pledge Arena went crazy as its fans were probably trying to process what had just happened. Breanna Stewart had scored the previous three Seattle Storm field goals and Jewell Loyd had been the closer in two of the four playoff games the team had played thus far. But, in a split second, the crowd was reminded of Bird, the retiring point guard GOAT whose final flight this is. She had given the Storm a 92-90 lead with 1.8 seconds remaining, seemingly ending Game 3 of a tied semifinal series against the Las Vegas Aces in the most fitting way possible.
Had it been a deciding game of the next round, the Finals, it would have of course been even more exciting. But some of the greatest plays in sports happen in playoff games that are close to the end, but not quite at the end, and we remember them just the same. Bart Starr’s game-winning quarterback sneak for the Green Bay Packers in the 1967 NFL championship game, then the round before the Super Bowl, comes to mind. So does the Dave Roberts steal in Game 4 of the 2004 ALCS that sparked a historic Boston Red Sox comeback from down 3-0 to defeat the New York Yankees. It wasn’t the final game of the ALCS, just like Bird’s shot didn’t come in the final game of the semis, and it wasn’t the clinching play to end the Curse of the Bambino, but it was the most memorable play along the way to that.
Alas, Bird’s shot will not go down in history with those other plays because Jackie Young would score on a layup at the buzzer to force overtime and Chelsea Gray, the hottest player on planet Earth right now, would score eight-straight Vegas points in OT to take a three-point Aces lead to nine points with 1:17 remaining. Seattle would not score again and Vegas won 110-98.
The fourth quarter excitement started in earnest when Stephanie Talbot hit back-to-back threes to tie and give Seattle a three-point lead, respectively, with the 81-78 lead coming at 2:51 remaining. Stewart then had an answer for each of the next three baskets by Vegas, capping a thrilling back-and-forth sequence with a drive to the basket and finger roll that gave the Storm an 87-85 lead with 54.9 seconds to go.
Loyd free throws then made it 89-85 with 11.3 ticks left and Aces coach Becky Hammon was heard telling her team in the ensuing huddle that they needed a three. R. Williams, who once scored 51 points in a game and is always a potential offensive bright spot on a bench that has been almost non-existent this season, delivered a quick trey off the inbound to cut it to 89-88 with 8.9 seconds remaining. Two missed Tina Charles free throws later, Wilson made it 90-89 Aces.
“We were up four with not a lot of time left and that’s really to me where we lost the game,” Bird said. “Letting them take the lead. That means they scored, what, five points in three seconds? That to me is where we really let this one go. I understand the last plays are gonna stick out cuz they’re dramatic and exciting and I’m sure it was great TV. But, we were up four.”
“We had the game,” Stewart said. “And we gave it to them. And that’s really it.”
Stewart was in danger of setting a new playoff career low in scoring before her three baskets late brought her up to 16 points at the end of regulation (her playoff career low is 15). She added four more points in OT and finished with 15 rebounds and six assists as well.
Breanna Stewart now with 20 points in the game, marking her 9th-straight playoff game with 20+ points, a new WNBA record.— Seattle Storm PR (@SeattleStormPR) September 4, 2022
She also has matched a playoff career-high with 15 rebounds.#TakeCover
Bird was good for 17 points and eight helpers, adding to what has been quite the postseason for her. Loyd had 17 points, Charles 16, Talbot 12 and Ezi Magbegor 10. Talbot was 3-of-4 from distance while Bird was 5-of-9. Magbegor was 4-of-4 from the field.
Wilson finished with 34 points, 11 rebounds and three steals while Gray had 29 points and 12 assists. Kelsey Plum added 16 points and seven helpers, Kiah Stokes had nine points and 12 boards and R. Williams had 14 points. Gray was 5-of-9 from deep (55.6 percent) and 12-of-21 from the field (57.1 percent). Wilson was 14-of-20 from the field (70 percent).
Vegas out rebounded Seattle 46-31 and led by as much as 15 earlier in the contest. The Storm’s largest lead was four.
“I think right now, you’re not gonna see happy faces, you’re not gonna see people that are thrilled about what just happened, and that’s ok,” Bird said. “I think you have to kind of like go through those emotions to get to the other side. And then tomorrow, we have one day to prepare. We’ll watch film, we'll come fresh, it's Game 4. Like, had we won today, that doesn’t mean anything’s guaranteed in Game 4. So you just kind of have to find a way to put this one behind you and move on.”