Wednesday, June 5, 2002 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Storm weathers bad stretch for OT win; Bird leads Seattle with 27 points, seven assists

Seattle Times staff reporter

Tamika Williams knew. All through the Minnesota Lynx huddles she kept begging, pleading. Please look, please listen.

"Don't let Sue Bird touch the ball," she urged. "Pleeeease don't let her touch the ball."

So many times when they were Connecticut Huskies teammates, they had nights like this one, with Bird languishing on the perimeter of games, her shot gone and her passes unsteady. Only to see it all disappear in five minutes of brilliance. And there it was again last night. With the game seemingly lost for the Seattle Storm, Bird was absolutely spectacular.

Kamila Vodichkova might have won this game at KeyArena, 78-68, with a leaning bank shot with 3:00 left in overtime. Semeka Randall could well have saved it with a steal two minutes later, but make no doubt, the victory was all Sue Bird.

"I've said it so many times, she's the spark," Williams said. "She's going to bring a lot to that team. People don't see it now, but that's only because they haven't seen her enough yet. She's going to be the difference."

Already that is quite apparent. Because with 8:00 left last night, the Storm had no chance of winning this game. Its star center, Lauren Jackson, was out for yet another game with an ankle sprain, Minnesota was running away with the night, well in the midst of a 28-minute procession of uncontested layups. And Bird couldn't make a shot. Heck, she barely seemed to break free to get her hands on the ball.

Then everything changed. Nobody knows exactly what, because nothing special was said on the Seattle sideline. Coach Lin Dunn didn't shout out any special instructions, and the Lynx defenses didn't instantly change. But it was as if a switch had come on and the Bird who had been invisible — with just eight points — for most of the night was suddenly unstoppable.

There was 7:43 left in regulation. The Storm was down 54-46 and Bird found herself fouled. She made one of two free throws, then made a jump shot, then fired off a pass to Adia Barnes for a layup, then made a soaring three-pointer from the top of the key. And seconds later, after Semeka Randall made two free throws, the Storm had turned the nine-point deficit into a one-point lead.

All in the matter of two minutes. Even a stoic Gary Payton was squirming in his courtside seat.

And in the Lynx huddle, Williams was shaking her head. The look on her face said, "I told you so."

"In my mind, Sue reminds me of a Michael Bibby or Jason Kidd-type, when the ball is in their hands, they make something happen," Dunn said.

With Seattle back in the game, Bird led the Storm down the stretch, passing to teammates for layups and making two critical three-pointers. But Williams' layin with 37 seconds left in regulation appeared to win the game. Vodichkova was fouled with just 7 seconds left and her two free throws brought overtime.

With her team given new life, Bird would not let the game go. She made a layup, then after Vodichkova's bank shot with 3:00 left, she made two free throws and one last jump shot to put the game out of reach.

And on a night in which she had just eight points for three-quarters of the game, she finished with 27 points and seven assists.

Later, she sat on a chair outside the team's locker room and smiled shyly. What was the fuss?

"It was fun," she said, then laughed. "I don't know. I'm glad to have won. I've been in these kinds of situations. I've played in Final Fours and those kinds of games."

She'll know. The Storm (2-1) needed something like last night to ignite the fledgling franchise. It needed someone like Bird, who can turn around a sluggish game in a matter of moments.

Some time soon Lauren Jackson will be healthy again and this team can only become better. Last night, Simone Edwards played strong in Jackson's absence, guard Sonja Henning shut down Minnesota's Katie Smith, one of the best players in the league. And there is a sense Bird is making everybody a little bit better.

"You know of all of us she has more pressure on her," Williams said. "They're expecting her to be great. But she can do it."

Something Seattle is starting to learn for itself.


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