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."