A’ja Wilson scored 29 points, Kelsey Plum added 16, including an important three-pointer in the last minute, and the Las Vegas Aces spoiled for the last home game of the regular season Sue Vogel beating the Seattle Storm 89-81 on Sunday.
The largest crowd in Storm history packed the 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 were unwilling to play their part to ensure Bird’s final was a win. Wilson dominated the first three quarters, Chelsea Gray and Jackie Young both scored 15 and the Aces never got behind in the final 28 minutes.
Breanna Stewart finished with 35 points which were high in the season 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 okay,” Bird joked to the crowd after the final buzzer.
The result mattered and not in the same breath. Both Seattle and Las Vegas were jockeying for the playoffs, and for the Storm, the loss dampened their chances for home field advantage in the first round of the WNBA playoffs. The Aces kept their hopes alive to catch Chicago for the No. 1 seed going into last week.
But the play-off position was completely secondary to the focus of the day.
Bird is the WNBA record holder for assists and games played. When this season ends, Bird will retire with five Olympic gold medals and at least four WNBA titles, in addition to 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 have nine to 10 years to be great. Decades been great for a long time, which to me is remarkable.”
Bird was unsure of what her emotions would be like prior to the match when all the festivities took place. She seemed surprised as she left the locker room to hit the field for pre-match warmups and members of her family lined the hallway with fiancé Megan Rapinoe last in the receiving row.
The overwhelming wave appeared to hit her during a video tribute just before the tip that included messages from Rapinoe, LeBron James, Russell Wilson, Chloe Kim, Lauren Jackson and Bird’s college coach Geno Auriemma, and cheers from the 18,100 in attendance, the largest audience ever for a Storm home game.
“We all know you’re not leaving. I’m looking forward to your next act,” Auriemma said.
For now, Bird is trying to get the Storm to play on their home floor again. Seattle is currently fourth in the standings and with the WNBA’s new playoff format, Seattle would host the first two games of the opening round in the playoffs if it can hold on to that spot.
Seattle was without head coach Noelle Quinn after she tested positive for COVID-19 and was in league health and safety protocols.
Reporting by the Associated Press.
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