By Aaron Lommers Herald Writer
TACOMA — It’s not often that a major television network like ESPN picks a player from a team that was just eliminated from the playoffs to interview over a player from the winning team.
There also aren’t many players like Tina Thompson.
The career of the WNBA’s all-time leading scorer and the first ever pick in the league’s inaugural draft came to an end on Sunday with the Storm’s 58-55 loss to the Minnesota Lynx in Game 2 of the best-of-three Western Conference semifinals.
Minnesota advances to the Western Conference Finals to face the winner of the Los Angeles-Phoenix series.
After the game, Thompson and Lynx players posed for a photo together. She shared an embrace with Minnesota head coach Cheryl Reeve and many of its players. She was congratulated by teammates and addressed them in a huddle at center court.
All the while the Tacoma Dome crowd of 3,457 remained.
Perhaps they weren’t ready to let Thompson go. Surprisingly, another person that wasn’t was Reeve, who broke into tears when talking about Thompson in the postgame press conference.
“You can count on her,” Reeve said. “That’s one of the greatest things you can say about an individual in any profession. For Tina to be an example not just to her team … I’m sad to see Tina go. Tina was a great player. Tina is special, for our league to be moving on, it’s hard.”
It seemed the only one that wasn’t sad was Thompson.
“It’s not that tough,” Thompson said. “I always knew that there was going to be an end. I decided months ago that there was going to be a final game. Although I could not predict when that game was going to be, I knew at some point that it was going to happen. The fact that we play the way we play and we play that way day in and day out, I can walk away and fell OK with how we finished because we simply gave as much as we could possibly give.
“I’ve always wanted to retire from the game and not the game retire from me. So when I leave the game on my own terms, it’s a lot easier to kind of settle with.”
The Lynx had won the previous five meetings between the two teams this season by no less than 13 points, but the Storm’s defense buckled down on Sunday.
The Lynx shot just 23-for-61 (37.7 percent) from the field and were held to their lowest scoring output of the season. Still, as well as the Storm were playing, they were behind on the scoreboard for most of the game.
Minnesota extended its lead to seven with less than five minutes remaining in the game, but the Storm had one final run in them. The Storm scored six straight, to cut Minnesota’s lead to 51-50 with 3:17 remaining.
After falling behind again by four, guard Noelle Quinn’s 3-pointer cut the lead to one again at 54-53. The defense got a stop and the Storm had a chance to take their first lead since the second quarter.
With the ball in guard Tanisha Wright’s hands, Thompson held up her hand as if to call for the ball. She got the ball at the top of the key and drove to the rim to give the Storm a 55-54 lead.
It was the final basket of Thompson’s career.
When the Lynx needed a bucket most, they went to Seimone Augustus. She had made just four of her first 15 shots, but delivered the go-ahead jumper with 25.1 seconds remaining to play.
“I never know what the shot is going to look like with Seimone,” Reeve said. “As a coach, your job is to get a player like Seimone the touch. Seimone’s job is to get the shot — and that’s exactly what she did.”
Curiously, the Storm elected to not call timeout after Augustus’ shot, something Seattle Brian Agler explained after the game.
“We had a play already called,” Agler said. “With the previous timeout we had, we had a play we knew we were going to run, so we knew we were all set. It was one of those things. People can wonder why we didn’t, but the previous timeout one or two possessions before we had the play drawn up in case we got (the ball) on the run. Against good defensive teams like Minnesota sometimes it gives them a chance to get set defensively.”
Minnesota forced the Storm into a turnover on the next possession and they were immediately forced to foul Rebekkah Brunson. Brunson made two free throws to give the Lynx a three-point lead with 11.6 seconds remaining.
The called timeout to set up a final play, but nothing materialized.
Without point guard Sue Bird and center Lauren Jackson, Thompson led the Storm in scoring this season averaging 14.1 points per game and was the leader of a team that was expected by most who follow the WNBA to have the worst record in the league.
“She didn’t come to Seattle to be in this situation,” Agler said. “Her expectation was that we would be a healthy squad and we would be playing for championships. Even though we lost Sue and Lauren, (Tina), to her credit, didn’t lose that approach or that mentality. She kept the focus.”
After the game, one of the league’s youngest and brightest stars, Maya Moore expressed her appreciation for competing against Thompson.
“I know it was an honor to play in her final game,” Moore said. “I wouldn’t want her to go out any other way than both teams playing exactly how we did, just tooth and nail. It was a grind, it was a battle. She made some big plays for her team and we would have to come back and do the same.”
Aaron Lommers covers the Seattle Storm for The Herald. Follow him on twitter @aaronlommers and contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.