Sue Bird doesn’t normally question her head coach’s judgment, but when Brian Agler said in the huddle he wanted Bird to have the basketball on the Storm’s final possession of Sunday’s Game 1 of the WNBA Finals, she wasn’t sure what to think. After all, it was Tanisha Wright who handled the basketball and set up Bird’s game-winning shot a week ago in Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals.
“The last game against Phoenix, T had the ball and was the one creating and then looking for Lauren (Jackson) or I afterwards,” said Bird. “He had me taking the ball up the floor and running the pick-and-roll and I said, ‘Why don’t you give it to T and do the same thing?’ He said, ‘No, you have the ball.’”
“I think with the way the game was being played tonight and who was on the floor, who was making the good decisions,” explained Agler, “we wanted to put the ball in Sue’s hands and have her make the decisions.”
That proved to be the right call. While the setup was different, the result was the same for the Storm. Coming off the Jackson pick, Bird was freed for an open pull-up jumper from the top of the key. The shot splashed through the net with 2.6 seconds left on the clock, and when the Storm stopped the Atlanta Dream on the other end, Bird had her second winning score in as many games.
Dream Head Coach Marynell Meadors knew before the shot even left Bird’s hands that her team was in trouble.
“If you give Sue Bird an open look with the game on the line,” said Meadors, “nine times out of 10 she’s going to make it.”
Meadors said she wanted Atlanta to switch the pick-and-roll with time running out, but Jackson was able to screen off both her defender (Sancho Lyttle) and Bird’s defender (Armintie Price). That gave Bird space to operate when she dribbled back to her left, as she anticipated.
“I had a feeling that if I went off the pick and brought it back to the same side I had just come from, they would be very low and I could get a look,” Bird said. “It just played out well. I was able to get a really good look. It’s a pull-up, which is what I like, and … swish.”
The way Bird has come through in key situations throughout the last few seasons, the surprise was not that Bird made the final shot. Instead, it was unexpected that Bird missed a similar attempt moments earlier on the Storm’s previous possession, when the game was also tied. The Seattle defense forced an Angel McCoughtry miss, giving Bird another chance. As is her custom, she never hesitated or considered the fact that it was not a great shooting game for her (6-of-16 from the field).
“Once you’re in your shooting form,” she said, “nothing else to think about but knocking it in.”