Seattle Storm celebrate Sue Bird in final regular-season home game; Aces play spoiler

SEATTLE — The stage was set for a memorable game on Sunday as the Seattle Storm celebrated Sue Bird’s 19 seasons with the franchise ahead of her final home game of the regular season in Seattle.

A franchise-record crowd of 18,100 packed Climate Pledge Arena for the Storm’s game against the Las Vegas Aces. Bird was honored with an on-court tribute pregame, a video featuring highlights from Seattle’s four championships with Bird and former teammates and attending coaches.

Only one thing didn’t go as planned was the Aces’ 89-81 win, in which they held Seattle behind 29 points from forward A’ja Wilson and several key fourth-quarter goals from guard Chelsea Gray.

“I’m not going to lie, it kinda sucks to lose my last game here,” Bird said as she addressed the crowd after the game. “But it’s OK, I lost my first game here too.”

As Bird’s comments indicated, the loss couldn’t overcome emotions on a day that saw two decades in the making.

“Outcome aside,” she told reporters, “it’s been a wonderful afternoon for me.”

When Bird went to practice more than an hour before the game, she could already feel the energy of the early fans arriving and see many of her jerseys and shirts with her in the crowd. When the storm ran out for the pre-game layup lines, through a tunnel of their friends and familyincluding fiancee Megan Rapinoe, Bird noted that instead of waiting for a cue, fans were already in their seats.

For Bird, the pre-game ceremony, followed by an important game—Seattle could have moved up the standings with a one-game win over Las Vegas—was reminiscent of Senior Day at the University of Connecticut.

“You have this big ceremony and your parents are taking you out and you’re all emotional,” she recalled. “And then it’s like, ‘Oh, you gotta play this game.'”

There were still pauses in nostalgia during gameplay. Bird noted that she’d seen the highlights of her rookie season 20 years ago (including her career-high 33 points against the Portland Fire two decades ago on Tuesday) and was reminded of the moment.

For the most part, however, Sunday’s game was simply a duel between two of the best teams in the WNBA, both battling for playoff spot. Tina Charles, who came to the game in Bird’s high school jersey from their mutual alma mater (Christ the King in Brooklyn, New York), kept the storm early in the game. At halftime, both Charles and Breanna Stewart had 14 points and six rebounds each, although the Aces still led by a margin.

Neither team led by double digits throughout the game, but Seattle never got anywhere in the second half as Las Vegas seemed to respond to every rally. Stewart, who finished with a season-high 35 points, and Charles (19) were the only Storm players to score in double figures. Four of the Aces’ five starters scored at least 15 points for their team.

Wilson jokingly apologized when asked by a post-game reporter if he was a “party crasher” for Birds tribute.

“I wasn’t trying to crash Sue’s party,” Wilson said. “She invited me to the party. I’m just trying to have some fun, trying to lighten it up a bit.

“That was a big night for Sue. I’m so glad you and [Sylvia Fowles] both get their flowers. The things that Sue has done with this franchise are amazing. I’m honored to be her teammate on the Olympic team, especially for finishing fifth [gold medal] beside her. This is a big night for her. I’m sure it will continue to be a big night for her and it’s all love for sure.”

In Bird’s case, she didn’t just receive metaphorical flowers in the form of well-deserved compliments on her career. she was literally presented with a flower by a young fan sitting on the sidelines before returning it “to keep”.

The memorable moments helped Bird top the score.

“Listen, Vegas are a really good team,” she said. “I think – myself included – we made a lot of mistakes that were within our control. Eight points doesn’t really tell the story in my opinion. They just kind of expanded them in the end. Looking forward to seeing her again and while I would have loved to win, maybe it’s a sign that good things are to come. That went well in 2002.”

Pokey Chatman, who served as Seattle’s assistant head coach while Noelle Quinn missed the game due to WNBA health and safety protocols, acknowledged the loss was painful but vowed to bring the team back to the Climate Pledge Arena for the playoffs.

“I think when everyone goes home and we pack up and go on our trip tomorrow,” Chatman said, “it’s going to be like, ‘Damn, I wish we could have done that for them.’ [But] Sue doesn’t make you feel that way.

“The good thing is that it’s not over and we’ll be back.”

To earn a first-round bye in the playoffs, the Storm must hold off the Washington Mystics for a top-four spot. Washington’s home loss to the Los Angeles Sparks on Sunday kept Seattle a game ahead in the losing column.

If the Mystics win their last two games, both against the league’s worst Indiana Fever, it means the Storm will finish at least 2-1 on a road trip that starts against WNBA leaders Chicago Sky and ends with a rematch must Sunday in Las Vegas.

https://www.espn.com/wnba/story/_/id/34366737/seattle-storm-celebrate-sue-bird-final-regular-season-home-game-aces-play-spoiler Seattle Storm celebrate Sue Bird in final regular-season home game; Aces play spoiler

Emma Bowman

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