SEATTLE (TBEN) — This time there were tears, on the field and in the stands. The finality of the situation struck Sue Bird and the thousands who showed up hoping to keep her career going for at least another 40 minutes.
Chelsea Gray was just too good, sending the Las Vegas Aces to the WNBA Finals, ending Bird’s illustrious career.
Gray scored 15 of her 31 points in the fourth quarter and the Aces advanced to the WNBA Finals with a 97-92 win over the Seattle Storm in Game 4 of their semifinal series on Tuesday night.
The Aces won the best-of-five series 3-1, all games were tense, busy and filled with spectacular shots. The Aces eventually made more, most notably Gray, who made five of the six shots and scored 12 of the last 20 points for the Aces.
“I don’t think anyone on planet Earth can guard her,” said Seattle coach Noelle Quinn. “She was unconscious.”
It will be the third Finals appearance in Las Vegas franchise history. The Aces lost to Seattle in 2020 in the WNBA bubble played in Florida, and the franchise reached the final in 2008 while still in San Antonio, losing to Detroit.
“It’s kind of like the girl who defeated Serena (Williams). It’s bittersweet,” said Aces coach Becky Hammon. “I know that myself and our staff and the team and the organization have so much respect for Sue. She has had a fairytale career, a career that children dream of. She has to live.”
Breanna Stewart tied the WNBA playoff record with 42 points, just the fifth player to score 40 or more in a post-season game, and Jewell Loyd added 29. But Seattle couldn’t find a third goalscorer and the Aces had an answer for every accusation Seattle made after Las Vegas shot forward early in the second half.
The Aces will be in the spotlight in the Finals. On this evening, the aftermath of the result was all about Bird and the conclusion of her two decades as a pillar of the Storm franchise and the WNBA.
Bird stayed on the field after the final buzzer and got hugs from the entire Aces roster. She wiped away the tears as the crowd cheered and cried with her, chanting “Thank you Sue.”
“It’s been an honor for me to play for this franchise, to play for these fans. I don’t know what else to say,” Bird said.
Bird, the oldest player in the league at 41, started the year thinking this would be it, but made the final decision midway through the regular season.
Las Vegas ruined the party in Seattle’s regular season finale when Bird was honored by the franchise and league for her 21 seasons with the team and 19 as a player, missing two seasons through injury.
And it was Aces who finally took out Bird and the Storm after four stressful games full of good performances.
Bird concludes her career as one of the most decorated players of all time: four WNBA titles, five Olympic gold medals, two collegiate titles with UConn, the all-time WNBA leader in assists and games played, and recognition as one of the great players during a golden generation for the league.
She will also retire the definition of a floor leader and ultimately a winner.
But she was unable to add a fifth title to that latest resume.
Gray was the biggest thorn in the side for Seattle with her clutch often firing late into the shot clock. Seattle even drew 67, but Gray hit a 3 when the shot clock ran out.
Gray scored consecutive buckets later in the fourth to hold out the Aces, but her miss and Gabby Williams’ layup even took Seattle to 82 with 2:40 to go. After an assessment by the officials, A’ja Wilson was charged with a foul for hitting Williams in the face, and her free throw gave the Storm a one-point lead.
That was Seattle’s last lead. Wilson’s three-point play put the Aces ahead again 85-83 and Gray wouldn’t miss, her jumper with 30 seconds left to give the Aces a 92-87 lead. Wilson finished with 23 points and 13 rebounds.
Stewart’s 26 first-half points were the most in the first half of a playoff game, surpassing the 24 first-half points Angel McCoughtry had for Atlanta against Minnesota in 2011. McCoughtry finished that game with 38.
Las Vegas will host Connecticut or Chicago in Game 1 of the WNBA Finals on Sunday.
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