On an otherwise dismal scoring night for point guard Sue Bird, a late mistake by Los Angeles Sparks guard Kristi Toliver made her the hero once again in the Seattle Storm's 65-63 win at KeyArena tonight.
Toliver knew she had made a mistake the moment the referee whistled her for a foul on Bird with the game tied and only 1.6 seconds left.
With the Storm in the bonus, Toliver's foul led to Bird calmly stepping to the line and knocking down the game-winning free throws to help the Storm escape with the win.
"The play was designed for me to come off, and when I did they came and I kicked to Tanisha (Wright)," said Bird according to StormBasketball.com. "Luckily the blocked shot ended up in my hands. They came running at me so hard I just pump faked and took the hit.".
Toliver was sprinting out at full speed to meet Bird who was coming the left side of the 3-point arc with the ball. Toliver came out with her arms up to avoid getting called for a foul, but with Bird falling to the ground after making contact the officials were put in a tough predicament.
"I thought we played well defensively," said Sparks guard Ticha Penicheiro, who finished with 15 points, 10 rebounds, and four assists. "We were right there. I don't want to talk about the last play and the foul they called because we shouldn't even be in that position."
Bird finished the game with 12 points on only 2-for-12 shooting, but added a game-high five steals, led the Storm in assists with four and tied for a team-high seven rebounds with Swin Cash. Lauren Jackson led the Storm in scoring with 14 points to go with five rebounds, while still going without an offensive rebound since her return from injury.
"We played them tough," said Sparks forward Candace Parker. "We played well defensively, but it just didn't come out in our favor. I don't have any thoughts about (the foul called on Sue Bird)."
But it was a particularly tough way to lose after Parker came alive late in the fourth quarter to bring the Sparks back from down eight points left in the fourth quarter, scoring nine of her game-high 19 points in the final six minutes and hit the free throws just over a minute beforehand to tie the game. Parker's inspired performance down the stretch helped the Sparks shoot 53.8 percent in the fourth quarter while the Storm managed only three made shots in the final frame and shot 20 percent.
Although the Sparks both outshot and outrebounded the Storm, poor ball control hurt them throughout the game, particularly in the third quarter when they turned the ball over on about a quarter of their possessions. Meanwhile, winning that turnover battle becomes one of the more subtly encouraging signs for the Storm tonight as they only committed two turnovers in the final period to help them overcome their poor shooting.
Parker finished with a well-rounded performance of game-highs of 14 rebounds and five blocks as well as two assists and two steals, showing that she can absolutely take over a game when she wants to.
The Sparks' improved fourth quarter performance only adds to the drama of their game on Tuesday night, when the Storm travel to Los Angeles for a rematch at Staples Center that is likely to be equally hard fought as both teams look forward to the playoffs.