Sue Bird is Seattle's ace in the hole
The veteran missed both regular-season losses to the Aces but put the Storm over the top on Friday night.
Welcome to The Next: A basketball newsroom brought to you by The IX. 24/7/365 women’s basketball coverage, written, edited and photographed by our young, diverse staff, dedicated to breaking news, analysis, historical deep dives and projections about the game we love.
Subscribe to make sure this vital work, creating a pipeline of young, diverse media professionals to write, edit and photograph the great game, continues and grows. Paid subscriptions include some exclusive content, but the reason for subscriptions is a simple one: making sure our writers and editors creating 24/7/365 women’s basketball coverage get paid to do it.
Sue Bird #10 of the Seattle Storm shoots the ball against the Las Vegas Aces during Game One of the WNBA Finals on October 2, 2020, at Feld Entertainment Center in Palmetto, Florida. (Photo by Stephen Gosling/NBAEvia Getty Images)
Did the Storm mind Sue Bird missing a midseason game against Indiana or New York? Probably not. Bird played 11 games or one-half of Seattle’s games this season. The Storm seemed to understand they were not as interested in being the WNBA’s best regular-season team.
They wanted to be in a position to win a championship and a healthy and rested Bird gives them that edge.
Look at what happened without Bird in the regular season. The Storm lost both meetings with the Aces and relinquished the No. 1 seed on the final day of the season as a result. We saw how Las Vegas was able to consistently keep Seattle from getting in rhythm. While the Storm thrives in transition, Bird makes the half-court offense just as dangerous.
Bird outdid herself in Game 1. Literally. She broke her own playoffs and Finals record for assists in a game with 16. That record stood for 16 years before Friday night. The Storm also received two points and five rebounds from Bird. Yet, Seattle needed her to keep the offense rolling and defense on their toes, not get buckets.
Jewell Loyd and Breanna Stewart had big performances and Bird played a key role. Every assist Bird threw was to either Loyd or Stewart. Loyd finished with 28 points, four rebounds, and four assists. Stewart had 37 points and 15 rebounds.
Both players are talented shot makers, but Bird helped set them up for good shots. Bird was hesitant to take all too much credit for herself.
“I think the way that our team plays and the way that our offense is kind of constructed, which actually dates back to even when Jenny Boucek was our coach,” said Bird after the game. “It was always about just finding the open player and moving in a way where we create opportunities, and for me as a point guard, I'm just out there trying to find the open player. Like I said, and I've always said this, this is a two-person thing and tonight. Those two [Stewart and Loyd] played amazing.”
Coach Gary Kloppenburg was less shy about heaping praise on Bird.
"I mean, yeah, 16 assists and three turnovers is just unbelievable. I mean, she just really did a good job getting the ball moving -- bringing it up, getting the ball moving, finding the open person, and we shot the ball really well,” said Kloppenburg. “We shot 50 percent and 38, 36 from three, so she was just doing a really good job of finding shooters, getting into their defense, the different ways that we do that, and just tremendous floor game for Sue.”
This is the basketball version of “What came first?” Bird doesn’t have her big night without her scorers. However, Stewart and Loyd were less likely to have these performances without Bird helping set them up for good shots too. It takes every part to make the Storm machine run.
What we saw from the Storm against the Aces was different from what we saw in the regular season. With Sue Bird, Seattle can throw a number of different looks at the opposition.
How Bird continues impacting this series going forward will be a key storyline.