Sue Bird scored 14 of her 22 points in the fourth quarter, and the Seattle Storm advanced to the WNBA Finals for the third time in franchise history, rallying for a 94-84 win over the visiting Phoenix Mercury in Game 5 on Tuesday night.
Playing with a broken nose suffered in Game 4 and wearing a protective mask, Bird struggled with her shot for the first three quarters but got hot in the closing minutes. She knocked down three consecutive jumpers midway through the fourth quarter, including a pair of three-pointers. After a contentious jump ball that left Bird screaming at officials begging for a foul, Bird added another three and pushed Seattle's lead to 84-76 with 2:51 left.
Bird handed Phoenix star Diana Taurasi her first career loss in a winner-take-all game. Taurasi had been 13-0 in those situations.
"I don't know, law of averages? At some point it has to happen," Bird said of Taurasi's streak ending. "This game wasn't anything more than two teams battling it out and one coming out on top."
League MVP Breanna Stewart led Seattle with 28 points and carried the scoring load through the first three quarters. Alysha Clark added 13 points and Sami Whitcomb provided a spark with 11 off the bench.
Seattle will face the Washington Mystics in the best-of-five Finals, starting Friday in Seattle. The Storm went 2-1 against the Mystics during the regular season, winning a pair of close games at home but getting routed 100-77 in Washington late in the season.
"It's been a great run," Bird said. "When the season started I wasn't sure what was going to happen and now we're in the Finals."
Taurasi finished with 17 points, but the Mercury was unable to overcome losing the first two games of the series in Seattle. Brittney Griner led Phoenix with 21 points but had just three in the fourth quarter. Yvonne Turner had 19 points, but was scoreless in the fourth quarter when Seattle outscored Phoenix 35-21.
Washington 86, Atlanta 81: Elena Delle Donne had a rather quiet night by her high standards — 14 points, 11 rebounds.
Even so, her Mystics are headed to the Finals for the first time in franchise history.
Rookie Ariel Atkins, Kristi Toliver and Tianna Hawkins picked up the slack for the Mystics, who held off the host Dream in Game 5 of their semifinal series.
"Wow," coach Mike Thibault said. "We're here because we're persistent, we're resilient and we play together."
The Dream led 71-69 with just under seven minutes left but then went cold. Washington seized the lead with a 9-0 run.
Delle Donne, averaging 24.7 points in the series despite missing Game 3 with a knee injury, did make a big jumper with 1:41 left, and sealed the victory with four consecutive free throws in the closing seconds.
Yet this was really about a poised Atkins, scoring 20 points. And Toliver, who had 19, and Hawkins, who added 17.
"That's why I came to D.C. — to make history," Toliver said. "It's very special to do it with this group of people. We just have a great, great locker room. It's an exciting time to be a D.C. fan and I'm glad I'm on the winning side of it right now."
Alex Bentley scored 16 points to lead five Atlanta players in double figures.
"I just got done bawling in the locker room," said Nicki Collen, who earned Coach of the Year honors for leading the Dream to a 23-11 record in her first season — an 11-win improvement over 2017. "I'm incredibly proud of this team. We're further ahead than I thought we would be when I took this job."