I’m not sure a game has ever been so misrepresented by its final score. The Aces took Game 3 of the WNBA semifinals in overtime in Seattle on Sunday afternoon, 110-98, but everyone who watched it will remember feeling like four or five different shots in regulation were “the game-winner,” that the story of the game changed completely with each late possession.
Was it going to be The Ezi Magbegor Game, won by the Storm’s young big chipping in off the bench? Was it going to be the Steph Talbot Game, her career-high 12 playoff points all coming in the fourth quarter? Was it going to be the Riquna Williams Game, Seattle’s victory in jeopardy when she hit a clutch three to bring Vegas within one after Tina Charles missed a pair of free throws? Maybe it would be the A’ja Wilson Game; she did what no one does better, finishing through a defender to give Vegas a one-point lead. Out of the timeout, Sue Bird made a corner three and said this would be the Sue Bird Game. Hers was a pretty convincing declaration at the time.
Both teams summoned dagger after dagger after dagger in the last quarter, but everyone’s wounds kept healing. Neither team would die in this ATO/execution clinic. After each shot, I kept making the Pat Mahomes clock management joke—that there was Too Much Time for Breanna Stewart, for A’ja Wilson, for Kelsey Plum—but the joke resembled reality a little too closely to be funny. There wasn’t even a full second left on the clock. How it managed to be the Jackie Young Game is anyone’s guess. She hit a curiously easy shot at the buzzer to send it to overtime, and from there, Chelsea Gray took over and Vegas cruised.
The veteran Gray, Vegas’s postseason hero this year, was asked how the game ranked among her past playoff experiences, and her description of the emotions she felt playing in this game rang true to anyone who watched it. “There was so many back-and-forth—Oh, they’re going to win it. Oh, no, they’re going to win it. Oh, now we’re going to overtime,” she said. “That’s what playoff basketball is all about. It felt good.” And yet, as Bird pointed out in her postgame press conference, Seattle had chance after chance to close the game out after their fourth-quarter surge. The suspense might have been avoided with those free-throw makes or some sharper defense. “We were up four with not a lot of time left and that’s really where we lost the game. Letting them take the lead—so that means they scored, what, five points in three seconds?” Bird said. “I understand the last plays are going to stick out because they’re dramatic and exciting and I’m sure it was great TV, but we were up four.”
What was great TV for us stings for the Storm, who can no longer win the series at home and instead must stave off elimination when they play the Aces Tuesday night. One game is one game and a loss is a loss, but this one feels like it could be particularly difficult for Seattle to recover from. “We had the game and we gave it to them. And that’s really it,” Stewart said. The Storm haven’t quite looked the well-oiled machine they did in their 2020 playoff run or in the later stretch of the regular season; they’ll need to find that gear quickly to survive. But all hope isn’t lost. It can’t be, with Breanna Stewart, Jewell Loyd and Sue Bird on the team. If this game taught us anything, it’s that there’s no such thing as a dagger.