Sue Bird remembers thinking when she was younger as Seattle was winning its first championship in 2004 that it was easy to get there and the Storm would be back often.
The WNBA’s career assist leader, who is a few weeks shy of turning 40, has the Storm back in the finals for the fourth time in her illustrious career after the team swept Minnesota in the best-of-five semifinals, winning Game 3 by 92-71 on Sunday.
“When you’re younger, you think it’s always going to happen,” said Bird after a 16-point, nine-assist performance in the win. “You start to realize how hard it is. When you’re in the moment, you start to grab at it. Right now, I’m thinking I’m super excited to be in the final.”
Bird is 3-0 in championship rounds, helping the Storm win the title in 2004, 2010 and 2018. She missed last season while recovering from knee surgery. The Storm were also missing Breanna Stewart, who tore her Achilles’ tendon while playing overseas.
Without their two stars, the Storm bowed out early in the playoffs last year, not really having a good chance to defend the title they won in 2018.
“I don’t know if we’re thinking about defending the championship. Early on, when Sue and I were out, we didn’t get a chance to defend our title and have that honeymoon period after winning,” said Stewart, who had a playoff-career high 31 points in the 21-point victory Sunday. “This is a new season, we’re here in the bubble, a lot of things are different. We’re happy to be back in the finals … we’re going to try and bring another one home.”
Seattle was the preseason favorite to win the championship and ran through the first part of the season before Bird suffered a bone bruise in her knee. Stewart also missed the final few games of the regular season as the Storm (18-4) finished as the No. 2 seed behind Las Vegas. The Aces will face seventh-seeded Connecticut in a winner-take-all Game 5 on Tuesday night to determine the Storm’s opponent.
“We’ll get some time off. Everyone’s beat up at this time of the season,” Seattle coach Gary Kloppenburg said. “Playing every other day. Get some good practices for whoever we are going to play at the end of the week.”
The Storm had nine days off after the regular season ended because they earned a double-bye. It was supposed to be a few days less, but three inconclusive COVID-19 tests forced the first game of their series with Minnesota to be postponed two days. Eventually all the tests came back negative
Bird and Stewart were glad to have some rest again before the opener of the WNBA Finals on Friday night.
“There’s a huge difference in 10 days and 5 days,” Stewart said. “We’re going to do what we can to make sure our bodies are ready.”