Seattle Storm celebrates Sue Bird in final regular-season home game; Aces play spoiler – ESPN

Seattle Storm celebrates Sue Bird in final regular-season home game;  Aces play spoiler - ESPN

SEATTLE — The stage was set for a memorable game on Sunday as the Seattle Storm celebrated Sue Bird‘s 19 seasons with the franchise before her final regular-season home game in Seattle.

A franchise-record crowd of 18,100 packed Climate Pledge Arena for the Storm’s game against the Las Vegas Aces. Bird was honored with an on-court tribute pregame, a video featuring highlights from Seattle’s four championships with Bird and from former teammates and coaches in attendance.

Only one thing didn’t go as planned: the Aces’ 89-81 win, which saw them hold off a 29-point deficit against Seattle. Aja Wilson and multiple key buckets in a guard’s fourth quarter Chelsea Gray.

“I’m not going to lie, it’s kind of a bummer to lose my last game here,” Bird said when she addressed the crowd after the game. “But it’s okay, I also lost my first game here.”

As Bird’s comments indicated, the loss could not overcome the emotion in a day for two decades.

“Outside of the result,” she told reporters, “it was a wonderful afternoon for me.”

When Bird took the court to practice more than an hour before the game, she could already feel the energy of fans arriving early and see many of her jerseys and T-shirts featuring her in the crowd. By the time the Storm ran out of pregame lineups, passing a tunnel of her friends and familyincluding fiancée Megan Rapinoe, Bird noted that fans were already in their seats rather than waiting for an announcement.

To Bird, the pregame ceremony followed by a big game — Seattle could have moved within a game of Las Vegas in the standings with a win — was reminiscent of Senior Day at the University of Connecticut.

“You have this big ceremony and your parents walk you out and you’re all emotional,” she recalled. “And then it’s like, ‘Oh, you have to play this game.’

There were still interruptions of nostalgia during gameplay. Bird made a point of seeing highlights from her rookie season 20 years ago (including her career-high 33 points against the Portland Fire, which came two decades ago Tuesday) and reminiscing about the moment.

For the most part, however, Sunday’s game was simply a matchup of two of the WNBA’s best teams, both battling for a playoff berth. Tina Charles, who arrived at the game wearing Bird’s high school jersey from her alma mater (Christ the King in Brooklyn, New York), kept the Storm in the game early. Before halftime, both Carlos and Breanna Stewart had 14 points and six rebounds each, although the Aces still led by one.

Neither team led by double digits the entire game, but Seattle was never able to get going in the second half as Las Vegas seemed to answer every rally. Stewart, who finished with a season-high 35 points, and Carlos (19) were the only Storm players to score in double figures. Four of the five Aces’ starters scored at least 15 points for their team.

Wilson jokingly apologized when asked by a reporter postgame about being “party crashers” for Bird’s tribute.

“I wasn’t trying to crash Sue’s party,” Wilson said. “She invited me to the party. I’m just trying to have fun, trying to lighten it up a little bit.

“This was a big night for Sue. I’m so glad that she and [Sylvia Fowles] both get their flowers. The things Sue has done with this franchise are amazing. I’m honored to be her teammate on the Olympic team, especially getting her fifth [gold medal] next to her This is a big night for her. I’m sure it will continue to be a big night for her and it’s all love for sure.”

In Bird’s case, she didn’t just receive metaphorical flowers in the form of well-deserved compliments for her career. She was literally handed a flower by a young fan sitting courtside before returning it “to keep”.

The memorable moments helped Bird overcome the result.

“Listen, Vegas is a really good team,” she said. “I think — myself included — we made a lot of mistakes that were in our control. Eight points doesn’t, I don’t think, really tell the story. They just stretched it out there at the end. We’ll see them again and while I would have loved to have gotten a win … maybe it’s a sign of good things to come. That worked out well in 2002.”

Pokey Chatman, who served as Seattle’s interim head coach with Noelle Quinn missing the game due to the WNBA’s health & safety protocols, acknowledged the loss was painful but vowed to get the team back to Climate Pledge Arena for the playoffs.

“I think when everybody goes home and we pack up and go on our trip tomorrow,” Chatman said, “it’s going to be like, ‘Damn, I wish we could do that for her.'” [But] Sue doesn’t make you feel that way.

“The good thing about it is that it’s not over yet and we’ll be back here.”

To earn a first-round bye in the playoffs, the Storm will have to hold off the Washington Mystics for a top-four seed. Washington’s home loss on Sunday to the Los Angeles Sparks kept Seattle one game up in the loss column.

If the Mystics win their final two games, both against the league-worst Indiana Feverthat means the Storm will have to finish at least 2-1 on a road trip that begins against the WNBA-leading Chicago Sky and ends with a rematch next Sunday in Las Vegas.

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