MINNEAPOLIS — Lauren Jackson sat red-faced atop a Target Center training table.
An intimidating figure at 6 feet 6, the Storm center slumped while fighting back tears on Tuesday. The final 3.3 seconds of her team’s Game 3 Western Conference semifinal loss to Minnesota was almost too difficult to relive.
Jackson, bumping into point Sue Bird to get under the hoop, caught an in-bounds pass from guard Katie Smith in the paint with Lynx forward Rebekkah Brunson draped on Jackson’s back. The WNBA’s fourth all-time leading scorer twisted for her signature jumper as 8,023 fans fell quiet.
It missed. The final buzzer sounded, the Storm losing 73-72, their eighth first-round playoff exit.
The defending-champion Lynx advance to play Los Angeles in the best-of-three Western Conference finals beginning Thursday in Minneapolis.
“I don’t think it comes down to one shot,” said Jackson, who was 1 for 7 from the field in the game, and 6 for 19 in the best-of-three series. “It was an epic battle.”
Brunson had practiced for that shot. Since learning the Storm would be Minnesota’s opponent, Brunson prepared against male practice players and watched endless videotape to get ready.
As Jackson can make the signature jumper in her sleep, Brunson can defend it.
“We came out of that huddle and we knew what they were going to do,” said Brunson, who scored 12 of her 16 points in the second half and also had nine rebounds. “I just tried to make it as difficult as possible for her. I pushed her out of position a little bit. But she’s tough. Once it goes up, it’s up. I did everything I could.”
The Storm seemingly did, too.
Seattle was down four after a layin by Minnesota center Taj McWilliams-Franklin with 1:37 remaining.
Bird drained a three-pointer at the top of the key to make it 73-72, forcing Minnesota to call a timeout.
The Storm then got a stop as Lynx point guard Lindsay Whalen, who finished with six points, missed a 7-footer. Jackson collected the rebound, and there was a scramble down court.
Bird, who finished with 19 points, said a timeout should have been called earlier, if at all. Storm coach Brian Agler called it with 3.3 seconds left.
“I said I was going to wait and see if you (Bird) could get something developed and I might let you play,” Agler said. “I didn’t see anything develop when Sue had it. You have to go with your gut feeling. ... If we don’t call timeout and we go down and miss, you’ll say, ‘Why didn’t you call a timeout?’ “
Now the Storm is out of time.
“My body is feeling at the end of its rope physically,” Jackson said. “Emotionally, I wanted to go through to the finals. All of us had that sort of mentality. Again, it came down to the very last play, and we were right there.”