Sue Bird has 3,222 regular-season assists, which is, of course, the most by an individual player in WNBA history.
On Tuesday night she arrived at that total with eight helpers for her Seattle Storm in an important 111-100 win over the first-place Chicago Sky. Seattle is still trying to clinch the fourth and final home court-advantage seed and the fifth-place Washington Mystics, who are one game back, are playing the 5-29 Indiana Fever in both their remaining games.
But a WNBA record stole the spotlight from the seeding race storyline. Bird’s eight led an assist party for the Storm, with Gabby Williams adding seven and Breanna Stewart adding five. Three assists in a game is considered pretty good and Briann January and Epiphanny Prince each had four. Tina Charles and Jewell Loyd each had three, Stephanie Talbot had two and Ezi Magbegor had one, meaning all nine players who saw action for Seattle contributed to a WNBA-record total of 37.
“Obviously we’ve had a lot of moving pieces this year. And I think everything’s starting to click,” said Williams, who also had 21 points and three steals. “I think we all feel like we can still make some more adjustments, still work on some things. But things are clicking more and more every game. We’re making those reads better, we’re reading each other better, finding those holes in the defense every game. So today was a big confidence-booster I think for everybody.”
“When you have a team sharing the basketball like that, it’s hard to beat,” added acting Storm head coach Pokey Chatman. “And that’s the first thing I said when we went to the locker room, went around and shook their hands and reminded them of that. ... It’s really good momentum going into theses last couple games to get that going there.”
The Storm need just one win over their final two games or one more Mystic loss to clinch home court advantage in the first round because they have the head-to-head tiebreaker over Washington. Home court in the first round would be huge for their chances of advancing to the league semifinals given how great the Climate Pledge Arena crowd is. It would also mean that their 89-81 loss to the Las Vegas Aces this past Sunday would not be Bird’s final game in Seattle, the city she’s called home for all 21 years of her career.
The Storm, who have struggled offensively by their standards ever since some cold shooting performances early in the season, were delighted to put up a franchise-high-tying 111 points in the 11-point win to follow up that disappointment against Vegas. The fact that it came against the best team in the league just made it even sweeter and restores any lost belief in the team’s ability to win a championship this year. Chicago had all its stars available and is still trying to secure the No. 1 overall seed. If the Sky do get that 1 seed and the Storm stay locked in at No. 4, the teams will be on a collision course to meet in the second round.
“We knew that this was a big one for many reasons, for the (season) series (vs. Chicago), for standings, things like that,” said Stewart, who continued to complicate a neck and neck MVP race against Vegas’ A’ja Wilson with 25 points and nine rebounds. Elsewhere Tuesday night, Wilson had 24 points, 14 boards and three helpers in a 97-90 win over the Atlanta Dream. “But I think that we just wanted to come out, we wanted to play obviously well, we wanted to play hard and just enjoy one another. I think we’re a team that doesn’t mind going on the road, but home court advantage is something that we definitely want.”
“Chicago’s the No. 1 team right now, they’re the standard,” Williams said. “Every win is vital. And that’s what I was thinking about tonight, I was thinking about that home court advantage. Of course it always feels nice to have a(n individual) game like this, but tonight was just about what it meant for us for this road trip, for our ranking and I think for myself to see what I can do against these teams.”
It was perhaps Williams’ best game of the season. She had two more points, five more rebounds, four less assists and three less steals in a June 19 win over the New York Liberty.
“I think once she’s able to see that ball go in the basket, whether it’s a layup, mid-range, three, just continues to kind of give her confidence,” Stewart said of Williams. “And whenever she’s going downhill and attacking, it’s hard to stop.”
Loyd followed up one point in 30 minutes this past Sunday with a much-more-typical 18 points, while Charles was good for 14 points and seven rebounds as the Storm flexed their offensive potential despite being sixth in the league in scoring with 81.6 points per game. Magbegor added 13 points in just 16:14 and Bird added 10. The team had some great runs and led by 22 at one point.
“We never stopped,” Stewart said. “Chicago made their run multiple times and when they did, we responded. Any time we’re playing away on someone else’s home court, they’re not gonna give us a game. And we were able to obviously keep our lead but continue to make plays throughout the entire 40 minutes.”
A Stewart three at 1:50 remaining to make it an 11-point game and a Bird three at 55 seconds remaining to make it a 12-point game silenced the Sky’s final efforts. As our Sky beat writer Zachary Draves wrote Wednesday, it was a great way for Bird to close out her final regular-season game in Chicago.
With 55.5 seconds left, Bird hit a three to make it a 109-97 game and go out on a high note in her last Chicago contest.
— Zachary Draves
There is no doubt that the Storm felt good after this win. Even though there are three teams ahead of them in the standings, a win like this makes the gap between No. 4 and No. 1 seem very small.
“I think the confidence is there,” Chatman said. “But it’s there with several teams. I think I can go back and say that several of these (Storm) players, they’ve experienced it. So they don’t have to imagine it. They know what that feels like. They understand this time of year, they respect it. They don’t get too high or too low. And I think that even keel, staying focused, is what helps us galvanize things. Of course we wanted to win our last game, it’s important. But to have them bounce back and be so intentional on the road speaks to that.”
The Storm assisted on 37 of a franchise-record 44 made field goals. That’s 84.1 percent of their field goals, which, per Storm PR, is the highest percentage ever in a single game for a team that made 40-plus field goals. They broke the single-game assists record by two. Thirty-five had been accomplished three times, most recently by the Liberty on July 6.