Sue Bird's legendary career ends as Aces weather Storm to reach WNBA Finals
Sun secure victory over Sky to force winner-take-all Game 5 in WNBA semifinals
This time there were tears, on the court and in the stands. The finality of the situation finally hitting Sue Bird and the thousands that showed up hoping to see her career continue for at least 40 more minutes.
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 the games tense, pressure-packed and filled with spectacular shot-making. The Aces ended up making more, most notably Gray, who made five of six shots down the stretch and scored 12 of the final 20 points for the Aces.
"I don't think anyone on planet Earth can guard her," Seattle coach Noelle Quinn said. "She was unconscious."
.<a href="https://twitter.com/cgray209?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@cgray209</a> DAGGER 🤯 <a href="https://t.co/MS80EABNm4">pic.twitter.com/MS80EABNm4</a>—@WNBA
It will be the third Finals appearance in franchise history for Las Vegas. The Aces lost to Seattle in 2020 in the WNBA bubble played in Florida, and the franchise reached the Finals in 2008 while still in San Antonio, losing to Detroit.
"It's kind of like the girl that beat Serena [Williams]. It's bittersweet," Aces coach Becky Hammon said. "I know myself and our staff and team and organization have so much respect for Sue. She's had a fairytale career, one that kids dream of. She got to live it."
Breanna Stewart tied the WNBA playoff record with 42 points, just the fifth player to score 40 or more in a postseason game, and Jewell Loyd added 29. But Seattle failed to find a third scorer and the Aces had an answer for every charge Seattle made after Las Vegas surged in front early in the second half.
'Thank you, Sue'
The Aces will get the spotlight in the Finals. On this night, the aftermath of the result was all about Bird and the conclusion to her two decades as a pillar to the Storm franchise and the WNBA.
Bird stayed on the court after the final buzzer, receiving hugs from the entire Aces roster. She wiped away tears while the crowd cheered and cried along with her and chanted "Thank you, Sue."
The final walk off for <a href="https://twitter.com/S10Bird?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@S10Bird</a> 🧡<br><br>4x WNBA CHAMP<br>5x All-WNBA FIRST TEAM<br>WNBA ALL TIME AST LEADER<br><br>Countless memories…. Thank You for everything Sue 💐 <a href="https://t.co/B2CQAiShcC">pic.twitter.com/B2CQAiShcC</a>—@WNBA
"It's been my honour to play for this franchise, to play for these fans. I don't know what else to say," Bird said.
The oldest player in the league at age 41, Bird started the year thinking this would be it, but brought finality to the decision midway through the regular season.
And it was Aces that finally eliminated Bird and the Storm after four stressful games filled with big performances.
Bird closes out her career as one of the most decorated players of all-time: four WNBA titles, five Olympic gold medals, two collegiate titles at UConn, the WNBA all-time leader in assists and games played, and recognition as one of the great players during a golden generation for the league.
We've been so lucky to watch you for 21 years. <br><br>Thank you, Sue. <br><br>💚💛 Love, Seattle<a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/ThankYouSue?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#ThankYouSue</a> x <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/TheFinalFlight?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#TheFinalFlight</a> <a href="https://t.co/8xPMNm5h2u">pic.twitter.com/8xPMNm5h2u</a>—@seattlestorm
She'll also take into retirement the definition of being a floor leader and ultimately a winner.
But she wasn't able to add a fifth title to that final resume.
.<a href="https://twitter.com/S10Bird?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@S10Bird</a>'s final bucket of her <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/WNBA?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#WNBA</a> career 🧡 <a href="https://t.co/SZicuIK7YK">pic.twitter.com/SZicuIK7YK</a>—@WNBA
Gray was the biggest thorn for Seattle with her clutch shooting often late in the shot clock. Seattle pulled even at 67-all, only to have Gray hit a 3 as the shot clock expired.
Gray scored consecutive buckets later in the fourth to keep the Aces ahead, but her miss and Gabby Williams' driving layup pulled Seattle even at 82 with 2:40 left. After an officials review, A'ja Wilson was assessed a foul on the play 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 back ahead 85-83 and Gray wouldn't miss, her jumper with 30 seconds left giving the Aces a 92-87 lead. Wilson finished with 23 points and 13 rebounds.
Sun force Game 5 against Sky
DeWanna Bonner and Courtney Williams each scored 19 points to help the Connecticut Sun rout the Chicago Sky 104-80 on Tuesday night and force a decisive Game 5 in their WNBA semifinal series.
Alyssa Thomas added 17 points for Connecticut, which will travel to the second-seeded Sky for the winner-take-all game on Thursday night.
It's the second consecutive playoff series for each team that has gone the distance. Both Chicago and Connecticut had to go on the road in the third game of their opening-round series and win to reach the semifinals because of the new playoff format that saw the higher seeded team host the first two games of that best-of-three set.
That wasn't the case Tuesday, as the Sun raced to a 22-6 lead, scoring 10 of the first 12 points. Thomas was a big reason why with seven points, four rebounds and two assists in the first five minutes. The All-Star forward had six points total in Game 3 and seven in Game 2 — both Connecticut losses.
The Sky got back within eight by the end of the first quarter, but couldn't get much closer as Connecticut had an answer for every Chicago run — thanks to Thomas, Bonner and Jonquel Jones.
Let's gooooo <a href="https://twitter.com/DEEBONNER24?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@DEEBONNER24</a> 💪<br><br>DeWanna Bonner has passed Taj McWilliams-Franklin for 5th on the All-Time Playoffs rebounds list with 443 👏 <a href="https://t.co/jX1EgVbHlQ">pic.twitter.com/jX1EgVbHlQ</a>—@WNBA
Chicago got within 38-33 midway through the second quarter before the Sun went on a 15-5 run to restore the double-digit advantage. DiJonai Carrington had five points during the burst that was capped by Thomas' layup with 1:01 left in the half.
Williams was the spark in the third quarter, helping the Sun stave off any Sky run. Her teammates were looking for her when Chicago would come double them, and Williams was left open for layups. She had 10 points in the third quarter.
Kahleah Copper scored 16 points and Emma Meesseman added 14 for the Sky.