September 24, 2022

A’ja Wilson scored 29 points, Kelsey Plum added 16 including a key 3-pointer in the final minute, and the Aces of Las Vegas spoiled the final home game of the regular season for Sue Bird hitting it Seattle Storm 89-81 on Sunday.

The largest crowd in Storm history packed Climate Pledge Arena to thank Bird for her two decades as the face of the franchise and one of the greatest women’s basketball players of all time.

But the Aces weren’t willing to play their part in ensuring Bird’s finale was a winning one. Wilson dominated the first three quarters, Chelsea Gray and Jackie Young both scored 15 and the Aces never trailed in the final 28 minutes.

Breanna Stewart finished with a season-high 35 points and Tina Charles added 19. Bird finished with nine points, six assists and four rebounds, but the result looked a lot like the first game she played in Seattle 20 years ago — a loss.

“I’m not going to lie, it sucks to lose my last game. But you know what, I lost my first game too. So it’s OK,” Bird joked to the crowd after the final buzzer.

The result mattered and they were not in the same breath. Both Seattle and Las Vegas were fighting for a playoff spot, and for the Storm the loss was a blow to their chances of having home-court advantage in the first round of the WNBA playoffs. The Aces kept alive their hopes of catching Chicago for the No. 1 seed in the final week.

But the playoff spot was completely secondary to the focus of the day.

Bird is the WNBA record holder for assists and games. Whenever this season ends, Bird will retire with five Olympic gold medals and at least four WNBA titles to go along with the two championships she won at UConn.

“To be that good for that long,” said Las Vegas coach Becky Hammon, who was Bird’s opponent in her first WNBA game on May 30, 2002. “A lot of people have nine to 10 years to be amazing. It’s it’s been amazing for decades, which is remarkable to me.”

Bird was unsure how she would feel before the game when all the festivities were going on. She looked stunned as she left the locker room to go onto the field for pre-match warm-ups and family members lined the aisle with fiancee Megan Rapinoe last in the receiving line.

The overwhelming wave seemed to hit her during a video tribute just before the tip-off that included messages from Rapinoe, LeBron James, Russell Wilson, Chloe Kim, Lauren Jackson and Bird’s college coach Geno Auriemma, and booing cheers from the 18,100 attendees. biggest crowd ever for a Storm home game.

“We all know you’re not going away. I can’t wait for your next act,” Auriemma said.

For now, Bird’s next act is trying to ensure the Storm play on their floor again. Seattle is currently fourth in the standings and with the new WNBA playoff format, Seattle will end up hosting the first two games of their first round playoff series if they can stay in that spot.

Seattle was without coach Noelle Quinn after testing positive for COVID-19 and was in the league’s health and safety protocols.

Report from the Associated Press.

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