Playing in her first game since announcing that this will be her last season in the WNBA, Sue Bird nearly matched her season high in scoring (17) with 14 points on 4-of-6 shooting from three. She also had four assists and two steals, but her fourth-place Seattle Storm fell to the second-place Connecticut Sun, 82-71, Friday night at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn.
The Storm trailed by 10 at halftime, took the lead in the third, but fell apart in the fourth. They got their deficit down to three with 3:58 to play on a Bird-assisted Jewell Loyd three, but the Sun answered with an 11-0 run to pull away.
Eleven-of-twenty two shooting from beyond the arc was not enough for Seattle to get the win, as the Sun bullied the Storm in the paint, 56-28, and on the glass, 47-31.
As the Storm’s four-game win streak was snapped (dropping them to 9-6) and the Sun matched first-place Vegas’ win total (improving to 12-4), Seattle head coach Noelle Quinn was asked what makes Connecticut so good.
“I think they have a good mix of inside-out game. They’re efficient pretty much from the threes that they do take, they don’t take a ton. They have an ability to pound you in the inside. They also have an ability to defend at a high level just because they have athleticism at every spot. Every position creates a mismatch that is difficult to handle.
“And at the end of the day, they’ve been together for quite some time, though Courtney (Williams) spent a year away. They’re in a system that hasn’t changed much. And there’s a lot of familiarity between the five or six that play the majority of their minutes.”
The Storm were 2-0 against the Sun during the 2021 regular season and one of those wins was by 23 points. They then defeated the Sun by 22 in the inaugural Commissioner’s Cup championship game. So they had Connecticut’s number through the first half of last year, most importantly with a championship on the line, causing the Sun to take a long look in the mirror because they desperately wanted some of Seattle’s championship DNA.
Here’s what DeWanna Bonner said after the CC championship game:
(Seattle) knows how to put it together and they have championship mentality. ... For me this game was like a championship mentality. It’s one game, you win the money, and it just takes a different type of mentality to play in these games, and they have it right now. We are still trying to figure it out, so hopefully we can figure it out before — well, this next half of the season.
Jonquel Jones added:
The feeling is to get our behind back in the gym and work on the things we need to work on to be successful moving forward. ... Ten grand, we are not thinking about that right now because quite frankly we were outplayed tonight and we got to get back to the drawing board because our mission is to win a championship and the way we played tonight is not going to do that, so we need to get back to work.
The Sun heard Bonner and J. Jones’ messages loud and clear as they won their next 12 games in a row to close the regular season as the No. 1 seed. They may have faltered in the semifinals against the eventual champion Chicago Sky, but the Storm fared worse, going 5-6 to close the regular season, losing their shot at a bye and falling in the second round, albeit without Breanna Stewart in that single-elimination playoff game. And so far in 2022, the Sun’s Commissioner’s Cup revenge has continued with a 2-0 record against the Storm and, as mentioned, a better spot in the standings (2.5 games ahead).
The Storm are 1-3 against teams above them in the standings — they lost to the Aces and beat Chicago. That’s not concerning yet, but Friday was a key battle lost and a win would have brought much more excitement than the previous four games, which were all wins against weaker opponents.
Bird for one has had success against the Sun. Her season high 17 points came in the first meeting with Connecticut and she was 5-of-11 from three in that game. After Friday’s game, Bird said that Connecticut has had a tendency to go under pick and rolls against her this season.
The greatest point guard of all time was also asked if her approach now changes due to her big announcement.
“I can’t really change who I am. It’s really hard to change 21 years of habit. How you prepare, how you are on game day, how you approach it. How you focus and get your mindset ready ... It's really difficult to change that. So I tried for like two seconds, it didn't work. I just am who I am. So I’m still gonna approach it the exact same way I have.”
Stewart also had a great game with 19 points, seven rebounds and five assists. The MVP candidate thus joined Bird at the postgame press conference and was asked to reflect on her seven years as Bird’s teammate.
“I think from the moment that I knew I was gonna be drafted to Seattle, my first thought was having the opportunity to play with Sue Bird. And just now looking from the years that we had together and what we still have this year, just really making sure that you appreciate every moment, you leave it on the court. She's someone who’s a great friend and just an amazing person. (Bird interjects: ‘Ruby’s best friend, I just want to establish that.’) She’s someone who’s kind of helped guide me on and off the court. So I tried to see if Sue would play another one, but we’ll just appreciate her right now.”
Ruby Stewart Xargay is the nearly one-year-old daughter of Stewart and former Phoenix Mercury guard Marta Xargay.