Without Bird, Bevilaqua Steps Up
When Seattle Storm point guard Sue Bird ran off the floor two and a half minutes into Monday's Game 2 of the Storm's Western Conference Semifinals series with the Minnesota Lynx, saying, "It's broken," while it - her nose - left a trail of blood across the court, the attention of virtually all of the 7,261 at KeyArena turned to Bird's backup, Tully Bevilaqua.
In Bird's absence, Bevilaqua outdueled Lynx point guard Helen Darling.
"Tully was stunned watching Sue run past her," recalled Storm Coach Anne Donovan after the game. "I had to call her three times to snap her out of it and get her into the game."
"I was shocked because Sue just ran off," Bevilaqua told the media. "I thought she might need a tissue. Anne snapped me out of it. I had a flashback to when this happened (against) Los Angeles (in the Storm's 2003 home opener, when Bird was knocked out by patellar chondromalacia) and I had to go in, but that was overtime and we ended up losing. I didn't want that to happen again. She's worked so hard to get us here. I didn't want to let the team down."
Later in the 2003 season, when Bird's knee issues flared up again, was one of only two other times in two years with the Storm that Bevilaqua had played more than 20 minutes in a game prior to last night. The similarities between the games are too close to ignore. That July 20, 2003 game was also played against the Minnesota Lynx (albeit in Minnesota). Just as last night, Bird started the game, but left scoreless after three minutes - the only two times in the last two years Bird has failed to score.
At the same time, the contrast is equally remarkable. Jackson was a force in that game, scoring a career-high 30 points on 9-for-13 shooting, 11-for-12 from the free-throw line. The rest of the Storm lineup, however, failed to step up. No other player scored double-figures, and the other nine players combined for 28 points on 25.6% shooting (11-43). During the second half, Jackson scored 20 of the Storm's 24 points.
In terms of balance, last night was a very different story. Playing against a Minnesota defense that aggressively double- and triple-teamed her, Jackson had 18 points, below her season average. However, four other players scored at least seven points and the Storm bench outscored the Lynx's reserves 27-16.
For that, credit must go to off-season acquisitions Janell Burse, Betty Lennox and Sheri Sam. But the real difference was Bevilaqua, who played an okay game last July 20, scoring five points and handing out three assists, but was scintillating Monday night.
"The most surprising thing for me (from the game) was when I got into the coach's locker room, well after we were done with media, and realized just how phenomenal Tully's performance was," Donovan said after Tuesday's practice. "I knew that she had great numbers, that she did a great job for us in 27 minutes. But for her to have nine points, five rebounds, four steals, four assists and no turnovers in 27 minutes, under great pressure, I think that deserves more recognition from me, and I made sure I did that this morning."
By the WNBA.com Efficiency Rating System, Bevilaqua's effort (+20) rated as one of the ten best in the playoffs so far. That's not bad at all for a player playing just her second playoff game.
Bevilaqua's performance was all the more impressive given that she has developed a style based on her role as a bench energizer. Playing limited minutes, Bevilaqua typically goes all-out with her frenetic style at the defensive end which has earned her the terms of endearment "Bulldog", "Pitbull" (a Donovan favorite) and "Terrier".
Knowing Bevilaqua's accustomed role, the Storm coaching staff made every effort to keep her fresh.
"If I try to pace myself, then I'm not as effective out there, and coach didn't want me to do that anyway," Bevilaqua said. "At any opportunity they could talk to me, it was always, 'Let us know when you need a rest. We'll get you out, you'll get a rest, you'll go back in there and you'll keep up that defensive intensity.' That's what I did."
Even given that, 27 minutes required drained Bevilaqua at times.
"Particularly when you start colliding with players, getting knocked around, that's when it really takes the wind out of your sails," she said. "There were probably a couple of times you could see me bent over a little bit, but apart from that, it felt pretty good."
Bird visited a specialist Tuesday, and X-rays determined that her nose will need to be repositioned at some point. The date for that surgery has not yet been scheduled, and Bird is listed as day-to-day for the Western Conference Finals, which begin Friday. She could play with a mask and doctor's approval.
"I don't think I knew that Sue was that tough, to take that kind of hit and be talking after the game about how she's going to play," said Donovan. "That's amazing."
Donovan added that Bird's spirits are good and that the team is in the process of getting a customized facemask made for Bird, potentially by as soon as Thursday.
Bevilaqua herself is hoping to see her teammate on the court, her own glory and playing time aside.
"I hope she plays," Bevilaqua said. "It's great having her out there. She's determined, and if she says she's going to play, she's going to play. I'm just ready for whatever happens, and if I need to step in at the end and help her out, I'll do that."
If that's the case, after Monday night, the Storm can be confident it's in good hands with Bevilaqua at the point.
With home-court advantage on their side, the Sparks have to be the favorite. In the 19 Game 3s in WNBA history, the home team is 14-5. Los Angeles is 3-0 in that position at the STAPLES Center, including two wins over the Monarchs. But Sacramento certainly has a shot, something Donovan knows - twice in her 2001 Charlotte Sting's run to the WNBA Finals, the Sting won a deciding Game 3 on the road.
"No, that's why God made me 6-8."