"I don't know if dominant is the word I would use," Bird said Tuesday as Seattle prepared for its opening-round series in the WNBA playoffs against the Los Angeles Sparks. "I think in like half our games we were down in the fourth quarter."
Bird's point is that Seattle battled and scraped just like everybody else -- winning five of their last six games by 10 points or less. And having such an accomplished regular-season guarantees you nothing when it comes to the postseason.
Not that the Storm would be in a position to take postseason success for granted.
Seattle hasn't advanced past the WNBA's first-round since winning the league title back in 2004. And in fact, it has been the Sparks who have knocked them out the past two years.
But this year is clearly different. The Storm are going to be an overwhelming favorite. They have experience -- not only in the general sense, but in the amount of time these players have logged together -- and they have good health. Lauren Jackson, who missed the last two postseasons with injury, is good to go. So is Bird and Swin Cash and Tanish Wright and Camille Little. They are good at least in small part because coach Brian Agler decided to give his starters some rest once the playoff spot and home-court advantage was sewn up.
"It is safe to say that this is a brand-new season," Bird said. "As a team, we are proud of the things we've done, but the only thing that really came of it was home-court advantage."
And what has to be a pretty big psychological advantage over the rest of the Western Conference teams. Seattle was 5-0 over Los Angeles this season. The Storm were 5-0 against Phoenix and 4-0 head-to-head against San Antonio.
"There's no question that Seattle had an incredible year, they dominated everybody," said Phoenix team president Ann Meyers-Drysdale. "I would like to think that Sandy (Brondello) and Jennifer (Gillom) and Corey (Gaines) feel we've got a chance. It all starts new."
No. 1 Seattle (28-6) vs. No. 4 Los Angeles (13-21)
Coaches: Seattle Brian Agler; Jennifer Gillom, Los Angeles (first year)
Season series: Seattle over LA, 5-0.
Starting lineups: Seattle, G Sue Bird (11.1 ppg), G Tanisha Wright (9.2 ppg), F Swin Cash (13.8 ppg), F Camille Little (10.1 ppg), C Lauren Jackson (20.5 ppg); Los Angeles, G Ticha Penicheiro (4.9 ppg), G Marie Ferdinand-Harris (8.9 ppg), G-F Noelle Quinn (10.2 ppg), F Tina Thompson (16.6 ppg), F DeLisha Milton-Jones (15.4 ppg).
Player to watch: Lauren Jackson, Seattle. The Storm center is making her first playoff appearance since 2007. She's missed the last two with injuries and the Storm have gone nowhere.
Matchup that matters: Sue Bird vs. Ticha Penicheiro. Two of the most experienced point guards on the planet will go head to head in this series. Bird has been the engine that drives Seattle all season. Penicheiro rebounded from early-season Achilles soreness to have a pretty valuable season for the Sparks, leading the WNBA in assists at 6.88 per game.
Series scoop: The Storm started with so much momentum -- 22-3 -- that four losses in August is cause for concern, right? Not necessarily. Seattle comes into this series healthy and rested. Jackson will be on the floor for the playoffs for the first time since 2007 and the Storm will be overwhelming favorites.
Los Angeles rebounded from its 4-13 start to the season to earn a playoff spot in a Western Conference rife with struggling teams. They did it the hard way, rebounding from a very slow start and the loss of Candace Parker and Betty Lennox to season-ending injuries. Still, they rallied to go 9-8 in the second half. Tina Thompson, the league's new all-time scoring leader, finished the season as the league's player of the week two straight weeks. And a one-point loss to Seattle in the regular-season finale has given L.A. hope.
Notables: This is the third straight year these two teams have met in the first round of the playoffs...The Storm have not advanced out of the first round of the WNBA playoffs since 2004.
Who's gonna win?: Uh, Seattle. A season-worth of excellence doesn't stop here.
No. 2 Phoenix (15-19) vs. No. 3 San Antonio (14-20)
Coaches: Corey Gaines, Phoenix (third year); Sandy Brondello, San Antonio (first year).
Season series: Phoenix 2, San Antonio 2.
Starting lineups: Phoenix, G Tameka Johnson (9.2 ppg), G Diana Taurasi (22.6 ppg), F Candice Dupree (15.7 ppg), F Penny Taylor (15.9 ppg), C Tangela Smith (9.2 ppg); San Antonio, G Becky Hammon (15.1 ppg), G Roneeka Hodges (7.7 ppg), Edwige Lawson-Wade (6.5 ppg), F Sophia Young (15.3 ppg), C Michelle Snow (10.4 ppg).
Player to watch: Becky Hammon, San Antonio. Two of the three double-doubles she notched this season came against the Mercury.
Matchup that matters: Penny Taylor vs. Sophia Young. Taylor and Young both play second-fiddle to their respective teams star guards, but they are the difference between moving on and going home. Young led the Stars in scoring for the first time. Taylor has been fighting through a late-season ankle sprain. The player with the better series here is likely on the team that will advance.
Series scoop: It's time for the defending league champions to figure it out. Having lost six of seven games heading into the playoffs, Phoenix faces a tough first-round matchup against a team they split with during the regular-season. But the Mercury have Finals experience to draw from and enough pride that they'd hate to get booted in the first round.
Diana Taurasi, who signed a multi-year deal with the Mercury earlier this week, finished with the league's scoring title and will be San Antonio's No. 1 defensive priority. She's averaged better than 24 point a game against the Stars this season.
The Silver Stars, who posted their worst regular-season record since 2006, are playing without Chamique Holdsclaw, who had been such a big contributor after joining the team just after the start of the season. But they are in the playoffs, having won their final two games to get there.
Notable: Phoenix experienced 12 losses this season by six points or fewer...These two teams are meeting in the postseason for the third time in four years...
Who's gonna win?: Phoenix. The defending league champions still have to prove that they can win without Cappie Pondexter. They should get more time after winning this series, which likely will be as hard-fought and tight as the season series.