By Aaron Lommers Herald Writer
SEATTLE — Sue Bird is clutch.
The Phoenix Mercury learned that fact in the WNBA’s Western Conference Finals. Bird’s shot with 2.8 seconds remaining in Game 2 ended the Mercury’s season.
On Sunday, Bird was at it again.
She knocked down an 18-footer from the top of the key with 2.6 seconds showing on the clock to give the Seattle Storm a 79-77 victory in Game 1 of the best-of-five WNBA Finals.
Game 2 is Tuesday in Seattle. Tipoff is 6 p.m.
Bird, the Storm’s veteran point guard, struggled from the field, shooting just 6-for-16, but she connected on the biggest shot of the game.
“I think Sue really has a calm disposition and it helps in big situations,” Storm head coach Brian Agler said.
“If you give Sue Bird a look with the game on the line, nine times out of 10 she is going to make it — and she made it,” Atlanta head coach Marynell Meadors said.
Agler drew up the final play with 20.4 remaining. It was designed to put the ball in Bird’s hands, with center Lauren Jackson setting a screen for her near the 3-point line.
But Agler didn’t put any limitations on the play. After Jackson set the pick, it was up to Bird to read the defense and either look for Jackson, drive to the basket or shoot.
“We were just going to let Sue be Sue,” Agler said.
Atlanta’s Armintie Price tried to switch under the screen, but Jackson closed her off, giving Bird an open look at the basket. Bird said such opportunities are “fun.”
“You get confidence the more you do things and are successful at them,” she said.
Agler drew up a different play in Phoenix. In that game, the ball was in the hands of guard Tanisha Wright and she found Bird coming off a screen.
Bird was asked if she had to convince Agler to put the ball in her hands this time.
“No, actually — last game against Phoenix, ‘T’ (Wright) had the ball and was creating and looking for Lauren afterwards. (This time) he had me taking the ball up the court and 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 he was like, ‘No, you have the ball,’ and that’s how it worked out,” Bird said.
Dream forward Angel McCoughtry had a chance to win the game as time expired but her 3-point attempt bounced off the rim.
McCoughtry came in averaging 28 points per game in the playoffs. However, foul trouble and a fourth-quarter injury kept her from getting into a rhythm.
McCoughtry picked up her third foul with 3.2 seconds left in the first quarter. She stayed on the bench for the entire second quarter. In the fourth quarter, she collided with Storm forward Jana Vesela. The collision opened a gash in McCoughtry’s forehead that required three stitches to close and forced her to miss several crucial minutes.
McCoughtry finished with 19 points, shooting 6-for-17 from the field.
Jackson, the WNBA’s Most Valuable Player, scored 26 points and pulled down eight rebounds. Bird wound up with 14 points. Forward Camille Little added 18 points, shot 7-for-10 from the field and grabbed 11 rebounds.
“I thought Camille did a tremendous job tonight,” Bird said.
The Storm came out hot in the first quarter, feeding off the energy of a crowd of 15,084. They jumped to a 20-9 lead and led 22-17 at the end of the period.
In the second quarter, the Dream outscored the Storm 22-17 with McCoughtry on the bench. A 3-pointer by Atlanta’s Iziane Castro Marques at the halftime buzzer tied the score 39-39.
In the third quarter, the Storm turned to their MVP. Jackson scored 14 points helping Seattle take a 59-53 lead into the final period.
Getting Jackson more involved was by design. “We talked at halftime that we wanted to … play through her,” Agler said.
The Storm led 77-72 in the final minutes, but Atlanta’s McCoughtry hit a jumper and Castro Marques converted a 3-point play to tie the score 77-77 before Bird delivered her dagger.