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

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SEATTLE — The stage was set for a memorable game Sunday as the Seattle Storm celebrated Sue Bird’s 19 seasons with the franchise ahead of 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-field pre-game, highlight video from Seattle’s four championships with Bird, and by former teammates and coaches in attendance.

Only one thing didn’t go as planned: the Aces’ 89-81 win left Seattle behind striker A’ja Wilson’s 29 points and several key fourth-quarter buckets from guard Chelsea Gray.

“I’m not going to lie, it kind of sucks to lose my last game here,” Bird said as 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 couldn’t overcome the emotion in a day two decades in the making.

“Apart from the outcome,” she told reporters, “it was a great afternoon for me.”

When Bird took to the field for training more than an hour before the game, she could already feel the energy from the fans who arrived early and saw many of her jerseys and T-shirts with her in the crowd. By the time the Storm ran out for pre-game layup lines, through a tunnel of her friends and familyincluding fiancé Megan Rapinoe, Bird noted that fans were already in their seats rather than waiting for a tip.

For Bird, the pregame ceremony, followed by an important game — Seattle could have topped the standings with a win within a Las Vegas game — 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 recalls. “And then it’s like, ‘Oh, you have to play this game.'”

There were still breaks of nostalgia throughout the game. Bird noted that she saw 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 recalled the moment.

For the most part, however, Sunday’s game was simply a match-up of two of the WNBA’s top teams, both battling it out for the playoffs. Tina Charles, who arrived at the game in Bird’s high school jersey from their shared alma mater (Christ the King in Brooklyn, New York), held the Storm early in the game. By halftime, both Charles and Breanna Stewart had 14 points and six rebounds each, though the Aces still led by one.

Neither team led in double digits the entire game, but Seattle could never continue into the second half as Las Vegas seemed to answer every rally. Stewart, who scored 35 points in the season, and Charles (19) were the only Storm players to score double digits. Four of the Aces’ five starters scored at least 15 points for their team.

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

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

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

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

The memorable moments helped Bird get past the result.

“Listen, Vegas is a very good team,” she said. “I think – myself included – we made a lot of mistakes that were in our control. Eight points don’t really tell the story, I don’t think. They just expanded it there at the end. to see them again and although I would have liked to have won … maybe it is a sign that good things are coming. That worked out well in 2002.”

Pokey Chatman, who served as acting head coach in Seattle while Noelle Quinn missed the game due to WNBA health and safety protocols, acknowledged the loss was painful but promised to get the team back to Climate Pledge Arena for the playoffs.

“I think if everyone goes home and we pack up and go on a trip tomorrow,” Chatman said, “it’ll be like, ‘Damn, I wish we could have done that for her.’ [But] Sue doesn’t make you feel that way.

“The good thing about it is that it’s not over and we’re coming 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 spot. Washington’s home loss to the Los Angeles Sparks on Sunday kept Seattle one game ahead of the loss column.

If the Mystics win their last two games, both against the worst Indiana Fever, it means the Storm will have to finish at least 2-1 on a road trip that starts against the WNBA-leading Chicago Sky and concludes with a rematch. Sunday in Las Vegas.

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2/ https://www.espn.com/wnba/story/_/id/34366737/seattle-storm-celebrate-sue-bird-final-regular-season-home-game-aces-play-spoiler

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