Sue Bird has turned into Ms. September for the Storm
Seattle point guard hits another game-winning shot to lead the Storm in the first game of the WNBA Finals
Seattle Times staff columnist
These are her magic moments. They've been her moments almost from the time she first shot a basketball.
Last ticks of a tight game. A loud, expectant crowd standing and cheering itself hoarse.
This is when Sue Bird wants and expects the basketball. This is when the game, sometimes even the season, belongs to her. This is when she separates herself from most of the rest of the players in her league.
So in a tie game, with 20.4 seconds left in the first of the best-of-five WNBA Finals against Atlanta on Sunday, Storm coach Brian Agler did what any smart coach would do. He put the ball in Bird's hands and asked her, as so many of her coaches before him have done, to win a crucial basketball game.
"Sue really has a calm disposition and it helps in tight situations," Agler said after his team's 79-77 win. "She's one who has the ability to be in the fray and keep an open mind and take what's given to her.
"I think most people in those situations, they get one thing in their mind and they're going to do that no matter what happens, instead of just coming through, coming off the play and then making a read."
That read has to be made in an eye blink.
This time, Agler called a pick-and-roll with Bird and Lauren Jackson. Think John Stockton and Karl Malone in their day. Different genders. Same play.
For the entire game, Atlanta had been defending the play the same way, going under the screen, not allowing league MVP Jackson to roll to the basket.
And in these final seconds, the Dream defended it again that same way. Bird read it. Two Atlanta defenders rolled with Jackson, Bird took a dribble to get in her rhythm and swished an 18-foot jumper with 2.6 seconds remaining.
Game 1 belonged to the Storm.
"When you have the ability to play with an open mind like Sue does," Agler said, "usually you're going to make the right decisions."
Just as NBA players like Robert Horry and Derek Fisher have done in so many big games in May and June, Big Shot Sue drained another game-winner.
Her three-pointer last Sunday in Phoenix won the Western Conference championship. On that play, she came off a screen, received a pass from Tanisha Wright and hit the game-winner.
"I can't tell you how many times I've seen her do that," said the Storm's Svetlana Abrosimova, who played college ball with Bird at Connecticut. "I know that always when the game is on the line, she's going to have the ball in her hands and she's going to create something good.
"She hits big jump shots. That's what she does. It's just amazing because everyone in the gym knows that she's going to have the ball in her hands and they still can't do anything about it. It just shows how talented she is. How much under control she is. She's just amazing."
Bird had missed almost the identical shot just 40 seconds earlier. In fact, she had missed 10 of her previous 15 field-goal attempts.
But she turns 30 next month and after nine years in the league, Bird says the game has slowed down for her, making it easier for her to read the floor. She expects second chances and usually converts them.
"At an early age, that was something that just always happened," Bird said of her big shots. "Whether it was AAU, or high school, into college and now the WNBA, it's just the situations I've been put in at a very early age.
"You get confidence the more you do things and the more you're successful at them. At this point in my career it's something that I enjoy. Those situations are fun, especially when they go in."
Bird fills up a stat sheet like a Bingo card. She finished with 14 points, eight assists, two steals, five rebounds and only one turnover in almost 38 minutes.
In a sport that tears up knees and hips and ankles, Bird has been enduring. She has played practically nonstop, in the WNBA, the Olympics and in Russia, and she has been with more winners than Reggie Jackson.
This summer she has become the league's Ms. September, breaking hearts and taking names when it matters most.
"She's a champion," Lauren Jackson said, sitting next to Bird at the postgame podium.
She's Big Shot Sue.
About Steve Kelley
Steve Kelley covers all sports, putting his spin on matters involving both the home team and the nation.
email@example.com | 206-464-2176
Seattle Times transportation reporter Mike Lindblom describes some of the factors that may have led to the collapse of the I-5 bridge over the Skagit River in Mount Vernon on Thursday, May 23.