On a record-setting day by Seattle guard Sue Bird, the Atlanta Dream had a statement game after the most fascinating week of what has been an amazing WNBA season.
And, no, that's not hyperbole.
Bird played in her 500th career game Sunday to set the WNBA record for regular-season games played in an 87-74 loss to the Dream, who have won seven in a row and at 15-9 are in second place behind 18-7 Seattle. And while Bird has seen it all in her 16 WNBA seasons -- she has also appeared in 39 postseason games -- it's safe to say that even she has not seen a week quite like this one.
On Tuesday, Dallas' Liz Cambage had a 53-point, 10-rebound, 5-block performance that gave her the WNBA's single-game scoring record. Two days later, she had 35 points and 17 rebounds, setting the mark for the highest two-game scoring output in league history.
Also on Tuesday, Atlanta's Tiffany Hayes launched a shot from well beyond half court to give the Dream an 86-83 victory at Connecticut.
The 22 All-Stars were announced that day, and neither Hayes nor Chicago's Courtney Vandersloot were among the nine guards selected. But they made their presence known. Hayes didn't just hit that big shot; she averaged 18 points in the Dream's victories over the Sun, Liberty and Storm. She's the leading scorer (17.4 PPG) for the league's hottest team, but -- unfortunately -- the most egregious All-Star snub.
Meanwhile, Vandersloot on Friday had the first triple-double (13 points, 10 rebounds, 15 assists) in Sky history, and just missed tying Ticha Penicheiro for the single-game assist record of 16. Also on Sunday, Shekinna Stricklen tied a WNBA single-game record with eight 3-pointers in the Sun's win over the Wings.
Speaking of records, technical fouls have been flying left and right lately at what feels like a record pace.
Dallas coach Fred Williams was ejected twice this past week. Diana Taurasi -- no stranger to technicals, admittedly -- was ejected in the second quarter of Phoenix's 80-75 loss to Minnesota on Saturday. The Mercury still pushed it right to the end, as the Lynx needed a monster game from Maya Moore, who had 38 points.
Even Bird got a recent technical in a July 14 victory over the Wings. We haven't witnessed that often in what has been a Hall of Fame career for the Long Island native and former UConn star. But it shows her passion for the game is still there as much as ever. And as she becomes the all-time leader in games played, passing DeLisha Milton-Jones, it's important to remember why Bird is still in a Storm uniform: loyalty, and her belief in herself and the organization.
In 2014, the Storm went 12-22, missed the playoffs for the first time in 11 years, and lost coach Brian Agler, who took over in Los Angeles. Bird was facing free agency after the 2015 season, and plenty of teams would have been interested in her. But even before the lottery that gave Seattle the No. 1 selection in the 2015 draft, Bird made up her mind to ride it out with the Storm.
Seattle got Notre Dame standout guard Jewell Loyd with the top pick in 2015 but still missed the playoffs that season. Yet Bird didn't change her mind; she signed a contract extension in February 2016, saw another No. 1 pick -- Breanna Stewart -- come to the Storm in April of that year, and helped Seattle return to the playoffs.
Seattle has lost in the first-round game in the playoffs both in 2016 and '17, but Bird's belief in the Storm has been rewarded. Despite Sunday's loss, Seattle is in the driver's seat to get a bye into the semifinals. The Storm face a tough challenge in having six of their remaining nine regular-season games on the road. But in Bird, Seattle has a leader to help guide the team through that, too.
She is averaging 10.0 points and 7.1 assists, second in the league to Vandersloot's 8.0. Bird is an All-Star for a record 11th time.
And when you take into account the high level of play in the WNBA -- exemplified no better than in the past week -- it says even more about the fact that Bird has remained such a vital player on the league-leading team.
She committed fully to fitness and diet standards a few years back. At 37, she's a role model for anyone in the WNBA -- or NBA, for that matter -- about how to add more high-level seasons to your career.
Along with that, she has been a revered spokeswoman for the Storm and the league. She has mentored countless other players. She has won two titles, and has hopes for another.
Not bad for 500 games and counting.