PHOENIX — The Seattle Storm appeared to be rolling right toward their destination when Sue Bird’s nasal history repeated itself, this time from friendly fire.
Bird caught an elbow from Breanna Stewart with 4:23 left in the second quarter, a break that ended Bird’s night with the Storm up 45-33 and rolling offensively.
And, instead of the next game in Seattle being Game 1 of the WNBA Finals, Bird and the Storm will play Game 5 of the Semifinals against the Phoenix Mercury, who came from behind to take Game 4 86-84 on Sunday afternoon in Phoenix.
Bird told ESPN’s Michelle Voepel that it’s the fifth time in her career that she’s broken her nose, which is why she had a mask with her in the locker room. She would have attempted to continue playing in Game 4, but her nose did not stop bleeding until after the game concluded. After talking to Bird postgame, Taurasi ended any doubts about Bird’s status for Tuesday night.
More from Seattle Storm
- Sue Bird says goodbye as Las Vegas Aces advance to WNBA Finals
- 3 Must-watch matchups in Storm, Aces WNBA Playoffs series
- Seattle Comes Back Late, Beats Washington In Game One
- What’s happening with Tina Charles?
- Your Day in Women’s Basketball, October 8: The Storm are WNBA champions. What’s next?
“Oh yeah, Sue will play, for sure,” Taurasi told High Post Hoops. “She’ll be fine. Hopefully she gets some ice on it and she’ll feel better.”
But even with her returning to the court in Game 5, it surely is agonizing for Seattle to have been as close as they were to finishing the series off on Sunday, only to have the night slowly slip away from them.
“I mean, she’s one of our main leaders, so obviously it’s a little bit different,” Alysha Clark said. “But she does a great job of teaching throughout the season, and she even said it at halftime. She’s like, ‘You guys are prepared for me not being out there.’ She just gives you confidence, whether she’s on the floor or not.
“Just having her presence there, it means a lot, because she’s constantly teaching and she’s constantly helping us. She’s one of the great point guards to ever play the game, so of course we’re going to miss her on the floor with her offensive IQ and stuff like that. it was a little tough, but we had ourselves in position to win the game.”
Bird’s absence at the point guard position was filled mostly by rookie Jordin Canada, who ended the night by playing 24 minutes and 30 seconds. Canada finished the night with nine points on 4-of-8 shooting, four rebounds, four assists and four turnovers, impressing her teammates.
“Jordin did a great job. She plays fearless and that’s something that, as a rookie and in these situations, [there] can easily be fear or doubt or whatever, and she comes in confident,” Clark said. “Whether she’s a rookie or not, at the point guard, you’re the leader for our team out there on the floor. I think she handled that really well.”
And Seattle coach Dan Hughes also liked the minutes Canada played, he said he was “not disappointed in her play at all,” Hughes also tabbed Noelle Quinn for the first time in the playoffs, including for the majority of the closing stretch of the game after Seattle had fallen down six.
“I wanted a veteran that would run the totality of what we were doing and settle us a little bit,” Hughes said of Quinn. “I needed a settling influence. We had lost a lead, and I knew we weren’t just going to score out of quick action, it was going to take ball reversal and action that did that.
“I needed to do something — it was six points and it was heading in the wrong direction. I knew we needed a little presence, and a veteran presence, so I reached to her. I thought she did a good job. She helped us get it back there.”
And while he was satisfied with his team’s job of getting back into the game, there’s no way around the impact that Bird’s injury had on Seattle’s night and what could have been.
“Obviously it has an effect,” Hughes said. “Sue brings a real presence to that, and she’s brings another catch-and-shoot player that we have. We had to make it work without her.”
Canada was a key part to that over time, and a major reason why Seattle chose her in the WNBA Draft is to eventually replace Bird whenever the long-time star decides to retire. In that sense, Clark sees this as something Canada can take away a lot from going forward.
“She’s been in a lot of learning situations this year, so I’m really proud of her for handling it the way she did,” Clark said.
Canada did enough to impress the opposing coach, too. But Sandy Brondello knows all too well the type of impact a player like Bird has on a team.
“She’s such a great player. She controls the team,” Brondello said of Bird. “She’s like Diana — it’s that leadership out there. Players build confidence just with her poise and her vision and her shot-making ability, not for herself but for the other players around her.
“Canada’s hurt us over this series, especially in these last few games, but it’s a little different. She’s a good little player, and is going to be a good player in this league, but it’s Sue Bird. You’re talking about one of the greatest of all time.”
For the player Bird helped recruit to the University of Connecticut all those years ago — who has allowed the line of competition and friendship to blur as this series has gone along — the concern was noticeable during the game, but that didn’t stop the jokes from flowing after the game.
“I was definitely concerned, and I was thinking about her the whole game,” Taurasi said, adding she asked Stewart and Clark for a status update just after halftime. “I hate when Sue gets hurt, especially with her nose. She’s very picky about her nose. When you have a nose like mine, you don’t give a shit. When you have a face like Sue, I would worry, too.”
After such a hard-fought, physical series, nearly every player for both teams is banged up and bruised. All that’s left is a winner-take-all game for a right to get to the WNBA Finals. For Taurasi, the Queen of said winner-take-all games, the idea that Bird would miss the game — and forever open a Pandora’s Box of “What if?” questions in the friendship — wasn’t worth giving any credence to when asked.
“Oh no, she’s going to play,” Taurasi said.
And so that is that.