May 16, 2022
Sights and sounds from the GOAT wars: Taurasi vs. Bird
Inside the battle of legends Sunday in Seattle
SEATTLE — As the buzzer sounded throughout Climate Pledge Arena on Saturday, the Seattle Storm and Phoenix Mercury starters gathered on the Storm logo for friendly high-fives before tip-off. The stars of each team, who happen to be best friends, give each other a quick hug before the game begins. But for the next 40 minutes, they’re not Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi, former UConn teammates and now, best friends. They are Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi, considered by many to be among the GOATs of the WNBA, playing each other in one of the most highly anticipated matchups of the WNBA season for the 45th time in their careers.
While this game was predicted to be another classic down to the last second matchup between these two teams, there were a lot of unknowns going into it. Before the game, Bird mentioned that this early in the season and with both teams missing key players, it was challenging to create a game plan.
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Phoenix is under new leadership this season with head coach Vanessa Nygaard and they are without Brittney Griner this season as she is wrongfully detained in Russia. Two other key players in the Mercury lineup, Diamond DeShields and Brianna Turner, returned to Phoenix on Monday from overseas commitments and played their first game of the WNBA season on Wednesday at home versus the Storm.
Seattle faced some unexpected changes to their roster, as well. The Storm’s second and third-leading scorers this season, Breanna Stewart and Epiphanny Prince, were unable to play on Saturday due to health and safety protocols and Mercedes Russell has yet to play in a game for the Storm this season due to an injury.
While neither team was at full strength, this game certainly did not disappoint. There were 15 lead changes and 10 ties throughout the game, with the biggest lead of the game being only six points. It came down to the final seconds as the teams were tied at 59-59 with 3:57 left. After Taurasi hit a big 3-pointer and Jewell Loyd answered with another one for the Storm, Tina Charles missed two key free-throws, and Bird failed to connect on a three that would have tied the game, the Storm ended up falling to the Mercury, 69-64.
“It was that type of game tonight. Two really good teams who made it hard for each other,” Taurasi said postgame.
Storm head coach Noelle Quinn viewed this loss as encouraging when considering the circumstances. “We have yet to play one single game with our entire unit, so [this game] is encouraging,” Quinn said. “We have players playing different roles, players who just got here, dealing with other issues. We can grow from this.”
In this “GOAT War” game, as it was referred to by fans, Taurasi came out on top. She contributed 24 points to her team’s win, and 8 of those points came in the final minutes of the game after the teams were tied 59-59.
Bird, however, struggled to contribute offensively for the Storm. She finished with 2 points, was 0-for-8 from 3, and shot at just 9.1%. Jewell Loyd led the Storm in scoring with 26 points and was the only Storm player to score in double digits.
Despite these offensive difficulties, Bird continued to pressure the Mercury, and specifically Taurasi, through her defense to make the win even more challenging for Phoenix. “I hate when Sue guards me because she knows me better than anyone else. She always knows where I’m trying to get to on the court,” Taurasi said of Bird’s defense.
On the court, Sue and Diana don’t hold back from challenging one another, whether it be pestering each other on defense or bantering back and forth.
“It’s a mutual respect we have for each other, but that doesn’t mean we don’t go at each other hard and compete,” Taurasi said, “There’s still that competitive edge. It’s like playing against your sister or brother in the front yard. You want to beat them really bad, but then you go get a beer with them after or something.”
Halfway through the fourth quarter, Taurasi and Bird got tangled up with the ball at the top of the key. Immediately, they began playfully arguing about who fouled who and what the call should be. When the referee called a jump ball and Sue and Diana turned to face each other for the jump, the fans at Climate Pledge Arena began to cheer and gave the legendary pair a standing ovation. Taurasi and Bird laughed as they tipped the ball.
“This is going to be the worst jump ball ever. If I lose this, I’m done,” Taurasi joked after the game, “I think that’s the first jump ball we’ve ever had against each other.”
Even though she described it as a funny moment, Diana had to get the last word in about her little squabble with Sue, quickly stating in her usual competitive fashion, “She fouled me, by the way,” when asked about the jump ball in the postgame press conference.
Lots of attention has been on Bird this season as she decides whether she will retire after this season, her 19th in the WNBA. Not surprisingly, 12,453 people were in attendance at Climate Pledge Arena for what could have been the last regular-season GOAT War hosted by the Storm. The Mercury and the Storm will meet for a final time in the regular season on July 22 in Phoenix.