A’ja Wilson scored 29 points, Kelsey Plum added 16 including a key 3-pointer in the final minute, and the Las Vegas Aces spoiled the final regular-season home game for Sue Bird beating the Seattle Storm 89-81 on Sunday.
The largest crowd in Storm history packed Climate Pledge Arena to thank Bird for her two decades as the face of the franchise and one of the best women’s basketball players ever.
But the Aces weren’t willing to play their part in ensuring Bird’s finale was a win. Wilson dominated the first three quarters, Chelsea Gray and Jackie Young both scored 15 and the Aces never trailed the final 28 minutes.
Breanna Stewart finished with a season-high 35 points and Tina Charles added 19. Bird finished with nine points, six assists and four rebounds, but the result was much like the first game she played in Seattle 20 years ago — a defeat.
“I’m not going to lie, it kind of sucks to lose my last game. But you know what, I lost my first game too. So it’s OK,” Bird joked with the crowd after the final buzzer.
The outcome mattered and didn’t in the same breath. Both Seattle and Las Vegas were jockeying for playoff positioning, and for the Storm the loss was a knock to their chances of having home-court advantage in the first-round of the WNBA playoffs. The Aces kept alive their hopes of catching Chicago for the No. 1 seed going into the final week.
But playoff position was entirely secondary to the focus of the day.
Bird is the WNBA record holder for assists and games played. Whenever this season ends, Bird will retire with five Olympic gold medals and at least four WNBA titles, to go along with the two championships she won at UConn.
“To be so good for so long,” said Las Vegas coach Becky Hammon, who was an opponent of Bird’s in her first WNBA game on May 30, 2002. “A lot of people you have nine to 10 years of being amazing. She’s been amazing for decades which is to me, remarkable.”
Bird was uncertain how her emotions would be prior to the game when all the festivities were taking place. She seemed surprised when leaving the locker room to take the court for pregame warmups and members of her family lined the hallway with fiancée Megan Rapinoe the final one in the receiving line.
The overwhelming wave seemed to hit her during a video tribute just before tip-off that included messages from Rapinoe, LeBron James, Russell Wilson, Chloe Kim, Lauren Jackson and Bird’s college coach Geno Auriemma, and roaring cheers from the 18,100 in attendance, the largest crowd ever for a Storm home game.
“We all know you’re not going away. I’m looking forward to what your next act is,” Auriemma said.
For now, Bird’s next act is trying to make sure the Storm play again on their home floor. Seattle is currently fourth in the standings and with the WNBA’s new playoff format, Seattle would end up hosting the first two games of its opening-round series in the playoffs if it can hang on to that spot.
Reporting by the Associated Press.
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