Sue Bird figured if it worked once, why not try it again?
Brian Agler thought differently.
Either way, the result was the same and the Seattle Storm is one game closer to its second WNBA title.
Exactly one week after making a game-winning 3-pointer with two seconds remaining to give Seattle the Western Conference championship, Bird again took center stage, sinking an 18-foot jump shot with 2.6 seconds to play to give the Storm a 79-77 victory in Game 1 of the WNBA Finals on Sunday in front of 15,084 fans at KeyArena.
Game 2 of the best-of-five series will tip off at 6 p.m. Tuesday at KeyArena.
While the play looked similar to the shot Bird made against Phoenix on Sept. 5, it wasn’t quite. Against the Mercury, Tanisha Wright handled the ball, passing to Bird for the winner.
On Sunday, Bird took the inbounds pass with 22 seconds to go and let the clock run down to 18 seconds before driving toward the top of the key.
There, Lauren Jackson set a pick, pinning Armintie Price and Sancho Lyttle behind her and allowing Bird room to step back and make her second straight heroic shot.
Atlanta star Angel McCoughtry took a 3-point shot at the buzzer, but with Bird and Tanisha Wright defending, the attempt bounced off the back of the rim.
Bird said that in the huddle prior to her shot, she suggested running the same play the team had run against Phoenix, but coach Agler said no.
Bird missed a similar shot on a pick-and-roll about a minute earlier but said she felt confident that she’d at least have a good look.
“I had a feeling that if I went off the pick and brought it back to the same side that I had just come from, I would be able to get a look,” said Bird, who scored 14 points and had eight assists. “I had the same look earlier so I had a feeling I was going to get it. And it just played out well.”
Agler said he wanted Bird to have the ball in her hands, giving her the options to take the shot, pass to Jackson off the pick or find a shooter on the wing.
“We were going to read how they defended it,” Agler said. “If they switched we were going to take Lauren down to the rim. If they were going to trap then we were ready for that. We were just going to let Sue be Sue.”
A strong start by the Storm – which led by 13 points in the first quarter – gave little indication that the rest of the game would be a struggle for the Storm.
McCoughtry, the league’s third-leading scorer, played 21 minutes because of foul trouble and a collision with the Storm’s Jana Vesela, leading to three stitches in McCoughtry’s forehead.
Still, Atlanta fought back from the early deficit, using a 21-6 run to turn Seattle’s 22-9 lead into a 30-28 advantage for Atlanta.
It didn’t help Seattle that Jackson, a three-time league MVP, took just seven shots during a first half that ended with the teams tied at 39.
Jackson came alive in the third quarter, scoring 14 of her game-high 26 points.
Still, the Storm never led by more than six points because of turnovers (18).
The Storm looked like it might finish off Atlanta early in the fourth quarter when a layup by Bird made it 68-59.
But again, Atlanta battled back, tying it at 77-77 on a three-point play by former Storm guard/forward Iziane Castro Marques, setting up Bird’s game-winner.
“We gave Sue Bird that open look, and if you give Sue Bird enough of a look with the game on the line, nine times out of 10 she’s going to make it, and she did make it this time,” Atlanta coach Marynell Meadors said.