Even with a freshly broken nose, Seattle Storm guard Sue Bird was undaunted.
In the locker room shortly after a two-point loss at Phoenix in Game 4 of the 2018 WNBA semifinals, Bird said she absolutely would play in the decisive Game 5. She was just irritated her nose -- which had been broken during the game, making the fifth time in her career -- had not stopped bleeding soon enough for her to return that day.
The ensuing result two days later was perhaps the most transcendent performance of Bird's epic career.
Now at 39 and in her 17th WNBA season, Bird has become more than a leader on the court. She is a voice for social justice issues and for LGBTQ rights, a personal evolution that E:60 will chronicle Sunday (ESPN, 5 p.m. ET).
But clutch performances have been a hallmark throughout Bird's career, beginning with winning two state championships at Christ The King High School in New York and guiding the UConn Huskies to two NCAA titles. Bird has always embraced the moment and often come up big, whether it was becoming the face of the Storm and helping them win three WNBA championships, winning gold medals in four Olympics or being a standout in Russia with five EuroLeague titles.
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Here are five of Bird's biggest moments.
1. Sept. 4: 2018: A monster fourth quarter
The Storm had the best record in the league -- 26-8 -- and were favored to win the 2018 WNBA title. But it appeared to be slipping away in Game 5 of the semifinals. Phoenix got off to a 13-3 start, led 46-41 at halftime, and was up 63-59 going into the fourth quarter.
Bird at 37 was at the end of a long season and a challenging series. But a commitment to diet and fitness four years earlier -- after a difficult 2014 season when she said she "felt like crap" most of the time -- had her feeling on top of her game.
Still, as she faced do-or-die time for the Storm, things looked a bit shaky. Bird was wearing a mask after having her nose inadvertently broken by teammate Breanna Stewart two days earlier. And at one point, she had missed eight shots in a row.
Not because of the mask, Bird would later explain. She was as used to the face shield as you can be; in fact, because she had broken her nose so often, the Storm brought the mask on all road trips.
Now, though, she needed to make some magic happen to keep the Storm's dream alive.
It started with an assist to Stewart with 6:31 left. Then a 3-pointer at 5:48. A step-back two-pointer from 21 feet at 4:44. A swish from beyond the arc at 4:01.
In the middle of all this spectacular shot-making, the mask legend only grew: On a scramble for the ball with 2:58 left, Bird went to the floor and thought a Mercury player had grabbed at her face. You virtually never see Bird go ballistic, but she came pretty close to it this time. Her friend/foe, Phoenix's Diana Taurasi, asked the referee to call a technical, to no avail. It all served only to fire up Bird even more, and when the smoke cleared, Bird hit another 3 with 2:51 left that put Seattle up by eight.
Bird had one last bomb, this one from 32 feet with 45.9 seconds left. In all, she made five of six shots in the final six minutes to score 14 of her 22 points.
Bird later gave Stewart credit for telling her at the end of the third quarter to use her legs on her shot, as she had been coming up short.
"Who has a career defining moment at 37?" Bird says in Sunday's E:60. "Fifty years from now, that'll be the biggest, best moment of my career."
2. Sept. 12, 2010: The Dream's nightmare
It was Game 1 of the WNBA Finals vs. Atlanta with the score tied at 77 and 20.4 seconds left. Never mind that Bird was 5 of 15 from the field to that point. She hadn't earned the nickname, "Die, B----es!" from fans on the internet for her uncanny ability to throw a late, lethal dagger for nothing.
As then-Dream coach Marynell Meadors said afterward, "If you give Sue Bird an open look with the game on the line, nine times out of 10 she's going to make it."
Bird got the look thanks to her basketball smarts and 6-foot-5 teammate Lauren Jackson setting sort of a combo screen/box out that was to die for. Jackson took out two Dream players: 6-5 forward Sancho Lyttle and 5-9 guard Armintie Price, who was trying to get to Bird.
"They had been going under pick-and-rolls for the majority of the second half," Bird said. "I had a feeling that if I went off the pick and brought it back to the same side that I'd just come from, they were going to be very low, and I was going to be able to get a look."
Then-Storm coach Brian Agler said of the final possession: "We were just going to let Sue be Sue."
The 18-footer swished with 2.6 seconds left, the Storm won 79-77, and they were on their way to a sweep and their second WNBA title.
3. Sept 5, 2010: Knockout punch to Mercury
Midway through the third quarter of Game 2 of the Western Conference finals, Phoenix was cruising with a 19-point lead. Bird and the Storm began to chip away but were still down 10 entering the fourth quarter, and by 12 with 3:21 left. A decisive Game 3 looked inevitable.
But Seattle wanted no part of that, and went on a 15-0 run to stun the Mercury, winning the game and the series on its way to the 2010 title.
With Seattle trailing 88-86, Bird missed a 3-pointer with 40.9 seconds left. Jackson went high for the rebound, and got the ball to Bird, who drove the baseline but was cut off by Penny Taylor. Bird wrapped a perfect pass around Taylor to Swin Cash -- Bird's eighth assist of the game -- for a layup that tied the score. Phoenix's Temeka Johnson then tried to drive to the basket on a clear-out, but Bird stayed with her, partially blocked the shot, grabbed the rebound, and called a timeout with 23.7 seconds left.
Jackson off the ball was key -- as would be the case a week later against Atlanta. She took her defender, Tangela Smith, with her as she cut to the basket but also screened out DeWanna Bonner just long enough to leave Bird open beyond the arc. Tanisha Wright delivered the pass to Bird, who nailed a 24-footer with 2.8 seconds left.
Taurasi -- who had scored 28 points and made seven 3-pointers -- had one last contested heave for the Mercury. But she missed as the final dagger belonged to Bird.
4. March 6, 2001: Bird at the buzzer
In a game that felt epic even while it was being played, UConn faced Notre Dame for the Big East tournament title at the Huskies' Gampel Pavilion. Some of the best players in women's hoops history were on the floor that night, with the Irish ranked No. 1 and UConn No. 2. There already had been a ton of drama, with UConn losing senior Shea Ralph to a knee injury in the first half that ended her career, and Bird -- a junior who was dealing with back pain -- hitting a running shot from just over the half-court line at the halftime buzzer.
Then with UConn leading 76-75, Bird lost the ball out of bounds after it had been briefly touched by defender Niele Ivey with 16.3 seconds left. Ruth Riley made one of two free throws for Notre Dame to tie the score with 5.1 seconds left, and then ball was back in Bird's hands for a full-court dash to destiny.
She pulled up in the lane, the ball leaving her hands with nine-tenths of a second left. The ball hit the front of the rim and bounced in, prompting bedlam at Gampel.
UConn didn't end up winning the national championship that year; Notre Dame got its revenge in the national semifinals vs. the Huskies and then won the NCAA title. But the Big East title game cemented Bird -- who also scored 25 points for the Huskies in her debut game of the UConn-Tennessee rivalry in 2000 -- as a clutch shooter.
5. Sept. 9, 2018: 'Good ol' Sue Bird move'
Bird's knack for a dagger and being the WNBA's all-time leader in assists (2,841 and counting) aren't her only attributes. She also has come up with some big defensive plays. One was the aforementioned stop against Phoenix's Johnson in 2010. Another was in the 2018 WNBA Finals.
After Seattle's dominant 89-76 victory over Washington in Game 1, the second game was much closer. The Mystics trailed 74-73, and Washington guard Kristi Toliver drove the baseline looking to grab the lead. But Bird reached around Toliver to knock the ball loose with 6.9 seconds left.
Seattle regained possession on the ensuing jump ball, and then held on for a 75-73 victory. What could have been a tied series instead became a series sweep one game later.
Bird also had eight points and four assists in that game, but that defensive play was key. Even if Toliver thought it was a foul, and UConn associate head coach Chris Dailey has always chided Bird about making that play.
"I've been doing that swipe-around-the-back thing since I was, like, 18 years old," Bird said. "She absolutely hates it. She calls it the 'Sue Bird move.' In fact, when she does scouting reports, she will say, like, 'Watch out for so-and-so; they do the Sue Bird move.' "
Dailey was watching the game, and teased Bird about it again.
"I literally -- the minute I walked in the locker room -- checked my phone; I knew I was going to have a text message about it," Bird said. "Like, sure enough: 'Congratulations, you did the Sue Bird move.'"