Seattle Storm guard Sue Bird. (AP Photo/Matt York)

Seattle Storm guard Sue Bird. (AP Photo/Matt York)

Watch the defending champs in Everett while you still can

The Storm host a playoff game Sunday. Next year, they’re back to playing games in Seattle.

EVERETT — Let me tell you a personal Seattle Storm story.

One of the facts about being a sportswriter is that your relationship with sports fandom changes. At least it did for me. When sports is one’s job, viewership tends to tilt away from enthusiastic boosterism and toward cold practicality, even when not covering the game. Because of that, I go to a lot fewer games on my own time than I used to, instead saving many of my off hours for interests outside the sporting world.

Yet there I was at KeyArena on Sept. 4, 2018, for Game 5 of the WNBA Western Conference finals between the Storm and the Phoenix Mercury.

I think I’d been to one Storm game previously, and that was in the early days of the franchise. But I was blown away by the experience. The building was packed and the fans were going nuts. And the caliber of basketball on display was off the charts, not just in teamwork and ball movement, as is often talked about with women’s hoops, but also in individual skill. The Storm won 94-84 to claim the decisive game, then went on to sweep the Washington Mystics in the championship series to claim their third WNBA title. It was one of my best fan experiences of the past decade.

All of which is me saying: Get to a Storm playoff game while you can.

The Storm begin their 2021 playoff run at noon Sunday when they host those same Mercury at Everett’s Angel of the Winds Arena in a second-round, one-game, winner-takes-all contest.

And yes, I know this is happening on a Seahawks Sunday, but the Seahawks have 14 more of those this season (well, Sundays, Mondays and Thursdays). This could be your last chance to see the Storm in Everett.

The Storm have been without a permanent home since that 2018 season, as KeyArena was gutted and replaced by Climate Pledge Arena. Seattle played a handful of home games at Angel of the Winds in 2019, then played them all in Everett this season.

But this is likely the end. Climate Pledge Arena will be ready next season, and when I texted Storm CEO and team president Alisha Valavanis, asking whether the team might play one-off games in Everett in the future, she responded by saying, “It’s too early to know.”

So this year’s home playoff games, all of which will be played at Angel of the Winds, could signal the end of Everett’s foray into major professional sports.

It’s also possibly a chance to see a champion in person. Seattle is the defending WNBA champ, and the Storm were the odds-on favorite when the season began. Seattle justified those odds early on, jumping out to a 13-2 record. However, the Storm have been in a bit of a funk since the Olympics break, going 6-6 over their last 12 and falling to the No. 4 seed. Seattle needed to beat Phoenix in its final game last Friday at Angel of the Winds just to hold onto the No. 4 seed and a first-round playoff bye.

This won’t be Seattle’s first playoff game at Angel of the Winds. The Storm beat the Minnesota Lynx 84-74 in the first round in 2019. But that situation wasn’t the same. Seattle played the entire season without its two biggest stars, Sue Bird and Breanna Stewart, because of injury, and the Storm were just happy to make the playoffs.

In contrast, this team is a contender. Bird, the greatest point guard in women’s basketball history, is in full flight, despite being 40 years old. Stewart remains perhaps the best player on the planet, though she’s questionable for Sunday’s game because of a foot injury that caused her to miss the final two games of the regular season. And all Jewell Loyd did was score 37 points — including 22 in the first quarter alone, tying the WNBA record for points in a quarter — in Seattle’s season finale.

These are elite athletes. The best of the best in their sport. And they’re seeking a championship right here in Everett.

“The way we played Friday, I wish we could bottle that up,” Storm coach Noelle Quinn said Monday. “I wish we can utilize that energy, that effort we played with Friday and package it to have it in our next game.

“The biggest thing is I feel like we were enjoying ourselves. I think when we play like that I think we’re a very good team.”

So get out to Angel of the Winds on Sunday when this “very good team” takes what it hopes is the first step toward back-to-back championships. You may not get another chance.

Follow Nick Patterson on Twitter at @NickHPatterson.

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