Seattle‘s Sue Bird gave all the credit to her team’s offensive prowess. But it was still a milestone game for her Friday with a WNBA Finals– and overall playoff-record 16 assists as the Storm beat the Las Vegas Aces 93-80 in the opening game of the best-of-five series in the bubble in Bradenton, Florida.
Bird broke the Finals single-game record with her 12th assist in the third quarter. She had 10 assists in the first half, after which the Storm led 57-40. Bird, appearing in her fourth WNBA Finals, played in her 51st playoff game Friday in a career dating back to 2002.
The Storm shot 50% from the field, with Breanna Stewart scoring 37 points and Jewell Loyd 28.
“I’ve always said this, [an] assist is a two-person thing, and tonight those two played amazing,” Bird said. “I just kind of went into the game with an open mind, tried to see what was happening. The assist thing wasn’t — not even a thought. I definitely didn’t go into the game thinking [about getting a record].”
Bird had just two points on 1-of-5 shooting, but her scoring wasn’t needed Friday.
“She really did a good job finding the open person and we shot the ball really well,” Storm coach Gary Kloppenburg said. “Just a tremendous floor game for Sue.”
This season, Bird averaged 5.2 assists but was limited to 11 of 22 regular-season games as she dealt with a bone bruise in her left knee. Bird did not play in either of the Storm’s regular-season games against Las Vegas, both losses. She averaged 7.3 assists in the Storm’s three semifinal games against Minnesota.
Bird missed all of last season after knee surgery, felt good entering the bubble in July and then was dealt another frustration with the bone bruise.
“It was a roller coaster at times,” Bird said. “But now we’re here, I’m off the roller coaster and I’m just trying to make the most of it.”
Bird, 39, is the WNBA all-time assists leader, with 2,888 regular-season assists. Her previous career high in assists was 14, which she had both in the regular season and the playoffs. Her 14 was the previous playoff record, which both Bird and Chicago’s Courtney Vandersloot reached.