Womhoops Guru

Mel Greenberg covered college and professional women’s basketball for the Philadelphia Inquirer, where he worked for 40 plus years. Greenberg pioneered national coverage of the game, including the original Top 25 women's college poll. His knowledge has earned him nicknames such as "The Guru" and "The Godfather," as well as induction into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007.

Friday, September 07, 2018

WNBA Playoffs: Ageless UConn Alum and League Vet Sue Bird Has Made it Back With Seattle to the Championship Finals

By ROB KNOX
@knoxrob1

Proving that age is just a number and a state of mind, Sue Bird’s gorgeous game continues to stand the test of time like a fine merlot. 

One day the basketball world will be grateful to Bird for her contributions to the sport once she’s inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame. She’s a 10-time All-Star, five-time All-WNBA selection, four-time Olympic gold medalist and two-time WNBA champion.

A shrine of brilliance, Bird is back in the WNBA Finals presented by YouTube for the first time since 2010 and third time in her storied career. 

The Seattle Storm will face the Washington Mystics in a best-of-five series beginning at Key Arena Friday night (9 p.m., ESPN News). Game two is Sunday afternoon at 3:30 p.m. in Seattle at 3:30 p.m. (ABC). 

The Mystics will host games three and four at EagleBank Arena on George Mason’s campus on Wednesday and if necessary next Friday in suburban Fairfax, Va. Both games start at 8 p.m. If a fifth game is needed, it will be back in Seattle.

Seattle will look to become the sixth franchise in league history to win at least three WNBA championships.

Meanwhile, Washington is making its initial trip to the WNBA Finals for the first time in franchise history. The Storm won the season series, 2-1, as each team won at home. The Mystics will look to do what the Washington Bullets did 40 years ago – beat Seattle for a title. Led by Wes Unseld, the Bullets beat the Super Sonics in seven games in 1978.

Playing like she's bathing in the fountain of youth, the 37-year-old Bird helped the Storm return to the WNBA’s biggest stage following a mesmerizing fourth quarter performance for the ages against the Phoenix Mercury and former UConn teammate Diana Taurasi in the decisive fifth game of an amazing WNBA semifinal series Tuesday night

Competing with ferocity, tenacity and fearlessness, Bird scored 14 of her 22 points in the fourth quarter.

 Bird’s scoring show, in which she also made four three-pointers, almost broke Twitter as the social platform went berserk.

 Thanks to Bird, Seattle set franchise records for points in a playoff game (94) and quarter (35), outscoring Phoenix 35-21 in the last 19 minutes. 

This finals trip is special for Bird, who will playing with a mask like she did in the 2004 Finals when the Storm beat the Connecticut Sun, thanks to a broken nose suffered in game four of the semifinals against the Mercury when she caught an elbow from teammate Breanna Stewart, another all-time UConn star.

“I think it’s because you never know when you will get back,” said Bird following Thursday’s practice. “In that same quote I talked about how in 2004, I was young, I was 23, it was my third year in the league when we made the Finals and I thought we’re probably going to do this all the time, and it didn’t play out that way. 

“In 2010, it felt a little sweeter because you never know when you will get back. What’s different know is that I’m 37, we were in a rebuild a three years ago, so I didn’t even think this was in the cards for me. That’s why this one is different.” 

Remember, Bird sat out the entire the 2013 WNBA season after undergoing surgery to remove a cyst from her right knee so that’s why she’s savoring this opportunity. It was a season to cherish for the Storm, who earned the No. 1 seed with a 26-8 record. 

Prior to this year, the Storm missed the playoffs twice and had a pair of first-round playoff exits.

Bird isn’t showing any signs of slowing down anytime soon. Still zipping around the court like a toddler at recess, the New Yorker is still performing an elite level.

The WNBA’s all-time assist leader has spent her entire career with Seattle raising the bar of excellence for the point guard position and the league.

 Despite being named one of the 15 greatest WNBA players in league history, Bird never takes a possession off, playing like a rookie trying to make a lasting impression.

She has always been about doing whatever the team needs to win. 

While still a formidable force, Bird has enjoyed helping Seattle’s young core of Stewart, Jewel Loyd out of Notre Dame and Jordin Canada out of UCLA develop.

 In the win over the Mercury in the fifth game, Bird got help from Alysha Clark, who had a double-double (13 points, playoff career-high 13 rebounds) and Sami Whitcomb (playoff career-high 11 points, four assists).

“Obviously for this group (being in the WNBA Finals is) a brand-new thing,” Bird said. “You can pull from your experiences but you obviously have to understand that just because it went one way in 2010 and 2004, has nothing to do with 2018.

“In 2010 the Finals were a five-game series but this year the semifinals and finals are (both that long), and it went to Game 5, so for me it was unique for me, even though I’ve bene here before.” 

Bird hasn’t shared much about playing in the WNBA Finals because she believes the Storm gained tremendous experience against the Mercury. The Storm won a game in overtime, lost a pair of games on the road, including one when it led by 17 points, and rallied from a third quarter deficit to win a fifth game against an experienced team. 

She believes her favored team is more than ready for the challenge of facing the Mystics. 

“We talked in the semifinals and I think that was a great experience for our team to have to gut it out in a game five and have to find a way to win,” Bird said. “To have tough losses in games three and four. Those were tough losses. Also to win in a tough manner. These are all experiences that you try to put into words but until you feel it you won’t know. Some ways I’m really thankful we did all that in the semifinals and now we can take that with us to the Finals.”