Whatever happens in the final game of the playoff series between the Seattle Storm and the Minnesota Lynx Tuesday night in Minneapolis, the Storm will always have Game 2.
When she arrived home from KeyArena Sunday night, Sue Bird gloried in the phone calls and text messages celebrating the Storm’s remarkable double-overtime, 86-79 triumph that put a big cheesy grin on a season that had been largely frowns and grimaces.
“People were saying how much fun it was to watch,” Bird told the team’s website. “So it was cool to be part of that. I feel like any time a game is close, people respond like that. The last time was maybe in 2010 when we were on that great run at the end. This one definitely brought a lot of people out from the woodwork.”
Most riveting from a Seattle prospective was how the Storm, which squandered a good beginning with a long, mid-game lull that reached a deficit of 13 points, delivered on so many big shots in the final minute and in the overtimes.
Perhaps it helped that on one of the biggest, Lauren Jackson lost track of the score. Trailing 75-72 in the final seconds of regulation, Jackson, who had missed 13 of her previous 16 shots, swooped around a screen and was wide open for a pass from Bird. Nothing but net.
“I thought we were four down,” Jackson said. “I had no idea what was going until I looked at the clock and said, ‘Oh, we’re going into overtime.’
“Considering I missed every other shot I took in the game, I was just happy it went in.”
It was part of a defensive mistake for which the Lynx paid dearly.
“We needed to make that play and we didn’t make that play,” said Minnesota coach Cheryl Reeve. “Any time Jackson is involved in a screen, you switch. And we failed to switch.”
For a team that mostly struggled for good shots, the string of treys was startling.
“Every time we needed to hit a big shot we did,” Bird said. “I think people, especially those that were cheering for the Storm, had an anxious feeling every time those moments presented themselves, wanting the Storm to score. I’m sure Minnesota fans that were watching wanted us to miss as bad, so that’s another cause of anxiety. I just think people really got into the game. Big shots are being made left and right.”
The game also had the good fortune to be on the main ESPN channel, which at that hour on fall Sundays normally features SportsCenter recapping the NFL and baseball pennant races that is often a must-view for sports fans with lives who want to catch up on a busy sports day. The announcers kept promising to their sports world that SportsCenter was coming up “as soon as this game ends.” It lasted 45 minutes longer than the suits in Bristol budgeted, a fine showcase for a splendid game.
I think both teams really left it out there on the court,” Bird said. “It was definitely a grind-out kind of game. It was tough mentally and physically, but in those moments it’s about digging deep.”
Said teammate Tanisha Wright: “I am completely exhausted.”
Added Reeve: “The Key is a tough place to play as it is, with nothing at stake, then you add to it that it’s win or go fishing. You fully expect that they’re going to give their best effort. They clearly didn’t want their season to end.”
The teams flew Monday and had little rest for the rematch Tuesday. The Lynx have the home crowd and the gaudy 28-8 record. But they know they are expected to win, and that sort of pressure can do funny things.
For the Storm, it’s a game they didn’t truly expect to have. So it’s house money. And they’ve proven they are capable of the unlikely.