Seattle Loves Its Storm, Which Rolls Behind Sue Bird
Pike's Market was loaded with football fans on a cloudy Sunday morning, folks sporting their Seahawks and 49er jerseys as they mingled among the fish-mongers.
The fact that it's the opening day in the NFL is an unmistakable fact.
But it's not the Seahawks flag that's flapping in the breeze atop the Space Needle this weekend.
Seattle truly loves its Storm. And the Storm proved worthy of their city's affection again Sunday.
In front of a raucous crowd of more than 15,000, star guard Sue Bird hit a jumper just inside the 3-point arc with 2.6 seconds on the clock to lift Seattle to a 79-77 win over Atlanta in Game 1 of the WNBA Finals.
Seattle has been the best team in the WNBA all season. The Storm's regular-season record matched the best record in the history of the league. They haven't lost a game at home -- 20-0 after Sunday's win. They swept the first two playoffs series heading into the Finals.
But this first game in the best-of-five series was no foregone conclusion.
The Atlanta Dream have been charging through the postseason with athleticism, size, aggression and the sublime play of second-year star Angel McCoughtry.
And when McCoughtry went to the bench in the first quarter with foul trouble, and into the locker room late in the game with a gash to her forehead that required three stitches, it was still not a foregone conclusion for the Storm.
Playing in front of NBA Hall of Famers Bill Russell and Lenny Wilkins, as well as former University of Washington star Nate Robinson (right), Seattle and Atlanta traded blows. The game included 11 ties and nine lead-changes.
Atlanta forced 18 Seattle turnovers. The Dream twice came back from big deficits, down 22-9 in the first half before playing to a 39-39 at halftime, and then scrambling back as Seattle -- behind the 3-point shooting of MVP Lauren Jackson built a 68-59 lead with 7:06 left in the game. Seattle was up 75-69 with 2:02 to go on a lay-up by Camille Little. A minute later, the game was tied.
And it remained tied with 77-77 with 20.4 seconds on the clock when Agler decided the ball would be in Bird's hands.
A week ago in Seattle, Bird came off a screen to bury a 3-pointer and end the Western Conference Finals against Seattle.
This time, it was her play from start to finish. She took the ball on the inbounds and beat Arminte Price, who was coming under a Lauren Jackson screen, trying to get in position to defend the shot.
Storm coach Brian Agler said he just wanted to "Let Sue be Sue."
"I think the way the game was being played tonight and who was on the floor and making the good decisions and those things, we wanted to put the ball on Sue's hands this time. Not have her come off a screen, but have it in her hands and have her make the decision."
Bird said she was looking for something different.
"Last game, against Phoenix, (Tanisha Wright) had the ball and was creating," Bird said. "He had me taking the ball up the court running the pick-and-roll and I was like, 'Why didn't you give it to T and we'll do the same thing?' And (Agler) was like, 'No, you have the ball', and that's how it worked out."
Bird said it seemed like a carbon-copy of a shot she missed just moments before.
"I was able to get a really good look and it was a pull-up, which is what I like, and swish," Bird said.
Dream coach Marynell Meadors didn't get the defense she was looking for on that final play.
"If you give Sue Bird an open look with the game on the line, nine times out of 10 she's going to make it," Meadors said.
McCoughtry got a decent look at the other end for Altanta, but her 3-point attempt at the buzzer bounced off the rim and away.
McCoughtry's absence for long stretches didn't prevent Atlanta from staying in the game and knowing that may be a boost for the Dream coming into Tuesday's Game 2.
Forward Iziane Castro Marques finished with 19 points. Center Sancho Lyttle ended up with 10 points and 14 rebounds. Erika de Souza came off the bench to score 10 points and pull down nine rebounds.
McCoughtry finished with 19 points in a little more than 21 minutes on the floor. It was her lowest scoring output of the postseason thus far.
She was not available to talk to the media after the game because she was sick to her stomach.
Dream coach Marynell Meadors said she wants to see McCoughtry, who scored a playoff record 42 points to clinch the Eastern Conference title last week, on the floor for perhaps 35 minutes on Tuesday night.
"This team is built on balance and we play hard whether Angel is in the lineup or not," Meadors said. "I think if we could keep her in the game Tuesday night, she will have a better chance of getting into some type of rhythm."
Atlanta was not alone in foul trouble. Seattle starting forward Swin Cash played less than 19 minutes because of foul trouble. Camille Little stepped up to pick up the slack with 18 points and 11 rebounds.
"This is the Finals. Nobody is going to lay down and die, I don't care what arena you're playing in," Little said. "They're a resilient team."
Jackson led Seattle with 26 points and 11 rebounds. Seventeen of her points came in the second half.
Getting her more involved in the offense was a conversation at the half for the Storm.
"Seven shots (in the first half) is not good enough," Bird said of Jackson. "We wanted to get her the ball."
On Tuesday night, the Storm will put its 20-0 record on the line. If Seattle can hold home-court, they will need just one more win to clinch that title that has looked like a foregone conclusion since about midway through the WNBA season.
But that's the funny thing about foregone conclusions. They often don't play out that way.