PHOENIX, AZ - JULY 26: (L-R) Swin Cash #2, Camille Little #20, Tanisha Wright #30, Katie Smith #14 and Sue Bird #10 of the Seattle Storm celebrate after defeating the Phoenix Mercury in the WNBA game at US Airways Center on July 26, 2011 in Phoenix, Arizona. The Storm defeated the Mercury 83-77. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Sue Bird Hits Game-Winning Three To Lift Seattle Storm To 81-79 Victory

The Seattle Storm enter tonight's game against the Connecticut Sun having won four of five games and moving into a three-way tie for second place in the Western Conference with the Phoenix Mercury and San Antonio Silver Stars. But gaining a small edge over their idle conference rivals won't be an easy task. As the Sun pursue first place in the Eastern Conference, they'll be just as hungry for a road win tonight. The game will tip-off at 7 p.m. PST at KeyArena and televised on NBA TV and broadcast online at WNBA LiveAccess. For more on the Storm and the WNBA, visit SB Nation's women's basketball site Swish Appeal.

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Video: Did Sue Bird Use An Illegal Screen On Her Buzzer-Beating Shot?


Seattle Storm guard Sue Bird's buzzer-beating 3-point shot.

After suffering a heartbreaking loss to the Seattle Storm last night, Connecticut Sun coach Mike Thibault said that Sue Bird received the help of an illegal screen to get open for her shot.

"That's a great shot that Sue (Bird) made at the end." Thibault said. "She got open with an illegal screen, but it was a heckuva shot. I thought it was going to be short when it left her hand, but sure enough, she's made enough big ones in her life. That's why she's one of the best in the world. It had to be a great game for fans, not for me, but for fans."

At about the five second mark, you might see what Thibault was referring too.

It does appear that Storm forward Swin Cash either pushed or grabbed Bird' defender as she popped out to receive the ball. And maybe Bird pushed off a little.

But that type of contact happens all the time in any professional basketball game. If the refs had made that call in that situation, they might not have made it out of KeyArena safely last night.

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Seattle Storm Vs. Connecticut Sun Final Score: Sue Bird's Buzzer-Beating Three Nets 81-79 Win

Everybody in KeyArena had to know that the Sue Bird would be a primary option with about 3.1 seconds left and the Seattle Storm trailing 79-78 after Connecticut Sun center Tina Charles had seemingly won the game with a layup on the previous possession.

Nevertheless, Bird managed to get open while popping out during a broken play and hit a game-winning, buzzer-beating 3-pointer to lift the Storm to an 81-79 win at KeyArena tonight.

"Brian (Agler) drew up a play; it was what (Connecticut) had run the last couple of plays, and it was one where it was kind of pick the picker," said Bird. "Long story short and I think Connecticut is smart defensively and they could see what was happening. They cheated the screens a little bit and I was able to bounce back to other way and get an open look. I just was able to knock it down. I held my follow through a little longer to kind of squeeze that one in there."

The last second dagger helped Bird finish with a game-high 20 points on 7-for-15 shooting, although she had missed her previous three shots in the final period. Bird's shot helped the Storm negate what would have been the sour taste of dropping only their second game at home since 2009 due to ongoing turnover problems, including four in the fourth quarter.

"This was a game where if we would have lost we would have been sitting in this locker room talking about how we let one go," said Bird. "So to hit that shot and to get the win does mean a lot. We're fighting and jockeying for position just like everybody else. Every win is important."

The combination of bad turnovers and a strong rebounding effort by the Sun buoyed a 14-3 late-game run that kept the game within the Sun's reach. Renee Montgomery scores on consecutive possessions brought the Sun to within one with 14.7 seconds left in the game.  After Storm center Ashley Robinson blocked forward Asjha Jones' first attempt tp take the lead out of bounds to extend the Sun's possession, Charles got the offensive rebound on the ensuing play to score the go-ahead basket.

"When they scored, (our team) was ticked off, but they didn't hang their heads," said Storm coach Brian Agler. "We went out, executed, put ourselves in position and Sue hit a shot. I thought we'd get a shot off, but you never know what the outcome is going to be. You don't know how the defense is going to defend certain things, but we ran it to get Sue the ball."

Montgomery's team-high 19-points were absolutely essential in keeping the pressure on the Storm with her drives to the basket and some impressive off-balance finishes. But the Storm's inability to consistently contain Charles - and the Sun's persistence in getting the ball to her - that was equally as valuable to the Sun's comeback effort. Charles finished with a game-high 10 rebounds along with 18 points to help steady the Sun's offense.

But despite repeatedly coming back to challenge the Storm after getting down double digits, the Sun never really recovered from the early hole the Storm put them in.

"We buried ourselves too many times early," said Sun coach Mike Thibault. "I thought we played very mediocre defense in the first half. If we'd played defense the whole game like we'd played in the second half, then we'd give ourselves a chance. Three out of the last four games we've let teams shoot over 50 percent in the first half and it comes back to haunt you."

With the win, the Storm move into second place in the Western Conference with a half-game lead over the Phoenix Mercury and San Antonio Silver Stars, who remain tied after being idle tonight.

Although it wasn't necessarily the ideal way for the Storm to move up in the standings after a rough start to the 2011 season, it was also a sign of the type of resilience that might have been in doubt this season, to say the very least, even if Bird's shot is familiar.

"I was really proud of our whole team and Sue made some great decisions tonight," said Storm forward Swin Cash, who finished with 14 points, seven rebounds, and five assists. "I've seen her make that shot a number of times. In Sue Bird we trust. She's proven herself over and over again. When she puts that shot, it's going in."

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Seattle Storm Vs. Connecticut Sun Halftime Score: Storm Up 47-40 Despite Turnover Problems

After yet another hot start to the game, the Seattle Storm suffered from a familiar problem and headed into halftime only up 47-40 over the Connecticut Sun at KeyArena.

The Sun used a 15-4 run to close the half, bolstered by both their own 60 percent shooting from the field and the Storm's seven second quarter turnovers.

Although Sun center Tina Charles has been admirably held in check by Storm post players, fellow UConn alum Renee Montgomery has been impressive with 12 points, including 2-for-2 shooting from the 3-point line.

To the Storm's credit, they rebounded well in the second quarter with Tanisha Wright leading the way with a team-high four to go with her 11 points. With Wright's aggression going to the basket and Sue Bird's game-high 13 points, the Storm are getting the scoring production they need from the perimeter and will have to remain aggressive in looking for high-percentage scoring opportunities inside.

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Seattle Storm Vs. Connecticut Sun: Three Keys For The Storm

Having scored a double-double on the Seattle Storm in their first meeting, Connecticut Sun center Tina Charles will obviously be the focal point of the defense tonight.

However, as Kevin Pelton of StormBasketball.com described in his Insider Preview, the Sun's recent success on the road was triggered at least partially by a lineup change on the perimeter.

The Connecticut surge started with a change in the team's starting five. Rookie Danielle McCray moved into the lineup at small forward, settling what had been a rotating spot alongside Kalana Greene. McCray, a 2010 first-round pick who did not join the team last season while recovering from a torn ACL, has averaged 10.1 points as a starter and provides floor spacing with her 40 percent-plus shooting from beyond the arc.

The Sun's rotation is more settled now, with Kara Lawson in the familiar role of sixth woman.

Three keys to the game:

  • Find a way to close out on 3-point shooters: With a near-40 percent 3-point shooter likely to be on the floor at all times surrounding Charles, it's imperative that the Storm identify shooters quickly as their rotating within their defensive scheme. In the first meeting between the two teams, the Sun burned the Storm for 43.8 percent 3-point shooting while the Storm were still mired in a slump and shot only 3-for-21.
  • Avoid turnovers: The Sun don't necessarily thrive on scoring points off turnovers, but the Storm don't need to give them the opportunity with Charles already dominant in half court sets. The Storm committed 17 turnovers against the Sun, 16 of which came in the first three quarters. Needless to say, taking better care of the ball helped them considerably down the stretch compared to the first three quarters of play.
  • Attack the basket, avoid settling for jumpers: This is also an issue every game for the Storm, but it might be particularly relevant tonight with Charles' presence in the paint. The Sun rebound well on the defensive end to shut down second chance opportunities and Charles takes up space in the paint. But the Sun actually allow an above-average 35.67 points in the paint so as Swin Cash showed in the first meeting with her 12-for-12 free throw shooting, there are scoring opportunities available if the Storm remain persistent about attacking the basket instead of settling for long jumpers.
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Seattle Storm Vs. Connecticut Sun On NBA TV At 7 p.m.: Sun Try To Disrupt KeyArena Winning Streak

The Seattle Storm enter tonight's game against the Connecticut Sun having won four of five games and moving into a three-way tie for second place in the Western Conference with the Phoenix Mercury and San Antonio Silver Stars. But gaining a small edge over their idle conference rivals won't be an easy task.

As the Sun pursue first place in the Eastern Conference, they'll be just as hungry for a road win tonight.

The game will tip-off at 7 p.m. PST at KeyArena and televised on NBA TV and broadcast online at WNBA LiveAccess.

For more on the Storm and the WNBA, visit SB Nation's women's basketball site Swish Appeal.

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