By Aaron Lommers Herald Writer
SEATTLE — With playoff seeding already set and avoiding a losing season the only thing of consequence still to play for, there was really only one possible storyline for the Seattle Storm in their regular-season finale on Saturday — celebrating the career of the WNBA’s all-time leading scorer Tina Thompson.
And the KeyArena crowd of 8,978 did just. There were tributes, special guests, standing ovations — and an 85-73 victory over the Tulsa Shock.
After dropping the first three meetings of the season with Tulsa, the Storm earned back-to-back victories over the Shock in the final two regular-season games to finish with a .500 record at 17-17.
The Storm finished one game better than they did in 2012 and did it without point guard Sue Bird and center Lauren Jackson, who both missed the season with injuries.
Without Bird and Jackson, the Storm were picked by many to finish with the league’s worst record, but Thompson had other ideas. In her final regular season, she was the Storm’s leading scorer, averaging 14 points per game.
To the crowd’s delight, Thompson called it “the best season of her career” after the game.
Thompson, who announced this past May that she would retire at season’s end, didn’t disappoint the fans during the game either. Fittingly, she made the game’s first field goal, a 3, just 30 seconds in and the basket gave Seattle a lead it never relinquished.
She finished the game with a game-high 22 points.
“We always try to get her as many shots as possible,” Storm head coach Brian Agler said. “We didn’t really do anything different than we normally do. It was one of those nights where she hit her first couple of shots.
“We wanted this night to really be special for her and obviously the competitor that she is, she’s going to want to win the game.”
Thompson knocked down 3 from beyond the arc in the first quarter as the Storm built a 21-10 lead. Seattle went on to lead by as many as 24 in a game that always seemed to be more about Thompson than about what was happening on the floor.
With 1:57 to play in the fourth quarter and the Storm comfortably ahead, Thompson made her fourth 3-pointer of the night to give Seattle a 20-point lead. The crowd responded with a standing ovation, but it was just the beginning.
Thompson, the No. 1 overall pick in the inaugural WNBA in 1997 and the only player in the league remaining from that draft, left the game 41 seconds later to another ovation that was worth every one of her 17 seasons.
Storm players and coaches, Tulsa players and even referee Cameron Inouye embraced Thompson as she left the court. After being prompted by Agler, Thompson came back onto the floor and acknowledged the fans one final time.
“We wanted to get her out of the game and let the crowd acknowledge Tina,” Agler said. “The officials really did a good job of holding up play while the fans cheered. I went down and said, ‘Tina, you need to make a wave, the officials will hold the game up. We’re not in any hurry, we’re going to do this right.”
After the game, Thompson was honored in a ceremony that lasted nearly 45 minutes. Agler, Storm ownership, former Houston Comets teammate Cynthia Cooper and others addressed Thompson and her contributions to the league before Thompson thanked family, friends, teammates and coaches in a speech that lasted nearly a half hour.
In the ultimate show of respect, Shock players came out and watched the entire ceremony.
Thompson and Cooper won four consecutive championships together in Houston, the first four in league history.
“I have seen you grow from rookie to legend,” Cooper said while addressing Thompson in the postgame ceremony.
Aaron Lommers covers the Seattle Storm for The Herald. Follow him on twitter @aaronlommers and contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.