There would be no backing into the playoffs for the Seattle Storm. While a Minnesota loss or a San Antonio win would have been sufficient to clinch the Storm's fifth consecutive playoff berth, the team made the point moot by rallying from a double-figure second-half deficit to beat the Chicago Sky 70-62 tonight at the UIC Pavilion.
If I were to pick one word to describe the 2008 Seattle Storm thus far, there's no doubt in my mind that word would be "resilient." That applies not only within games like this one when the Storm has fought its way back after trailing early, but also to the team as a whole in the absence of MVP Lauren Jackson.
Nobody has been more resilient than Sue Bird, who has worked with Brian Agler to slightly alter her mentality with brilliant results and become this team's rock without Jackson. There's work underway on a Bird for MVP campaign, but really all that needs to be done is make sure the media voters see a tape of the fourth quarter of tonight's game.
Bird's performance, including 13 points in the fourth quarter - more than Chicago scored as a team - forced the group of Storm employees watching the game at Fox Sports Grill to confront the question of whether it's appropriate to start an "MVP" chant while watching a game on TV. (The verdict: no, but it was close.)
Of course, you can vote for Bird for MVP now at WNBA.com.Resilient certainly also applies to veterans Swin Cash, Yolanda Griffith and Sheryl Swoopes, all of whom have battled various injuries and continued to contribute to the cause. Swoopes' heel has her in obvious pain, but there she was coming up with a critical block in the fourth quarter. There was Cash, bad back and all, hitting the impossible leaner that proved the final nail in Chicago's coffin. And all Griffith did in her hometown was play rookie phenom Sylvia Fowles to a draw.
Also worth noting is a resilient bench, so frequently maligned in recent seasons, that has been productive even with Tanisha Wright and Camille Little stepping into the starting lineup. Katie Gearlds scored nine points and has emerged in the second half of the season as the confident, dangerous shooter the Storm envisioned as well as a defender who can more than hold her own. Ashley Robinson stepped up with a terrific road trip, offering the energetic defense and rebounding that make her an asset.
At this point, the history the Storm is making is becoming difficult to ignore. Not only did tonight's victory tie the franchise record of 20 wins with four games left to play, it also pushed the Storm 10 games above .500 for the first time in team history. If the Storm could hold San Antonio and Los Angeles at bay and earn the top seed in the West playoffs, that would also be one for the record books, as the Storm has never won the regular-season Western Conference crown. Although the Silver Stars still have the inside track for the top seed thanks to the head-to-head tiebreaker with the Storm, their schedule is challenging the rest of the way, including tomorrow's showdown with the Sparks at the AT&T Center.
20 wins, having the WNBA's best record with nine days left in the season ... it's heady stuff for a team that was written off in some circles after surgery ended Jackson's regular season. For this resilient bunch, not a problem.