SEATTLE — Seattle was road-weary and injured Sunday.
The extra jolt the team could have used to pull out a win was sitting on the bench in warmups.
Center Lauren Jackson (right hamstring), point guard Sue Bird (left hip flexor) and forward Alysha Clark (illness) did not play in a 60-58 loss to Connecticut.
Jackson, a three-time MVP, has been out two games while Bird, a seven-time All-Star, missed her third consecutive game.
“It was hard, I’m not going to lie, most of us were tired,” Storm guard Katie Smith about returning from the road and playing 36 minutes. “But once we got moving and got into the game ... we have a lot of pride in what we do, individually and as a team.”
The Storm did piece together an 11-2 run to take a 58-54 lead following a fadeaway by Smith with 1:22 remaining in the game, but the experience of Jackson and Bird could have helped the Storm stay ahead.
Sun point guard Kara Lawson hit a three-pointer with less than a minute to go and guard Renee Montgomery drew a foul on Camille Little with 14.4 seconds left, making the ensuing two free throws to take the win. Storm rookie Shekinna Stricklen did attempt a desperation 3-pointer at the buzzer, but missed.
Seattle gave up 18 points on 25 turnovers and went to the line five times compared to Connecticut’s 15.
“We had some defensive lapses at crucial times that either put them on the line or gave them the lead,” said forward Tina Thompson, who joined Smith and Stricklen in providing a late surge. “We’ve had a tumultuous season in that we’ve been plagued with injures and different things at different moments. We just haven’t had the opportunity to be all together at one time, especially at this point in the season.”
Stricklen finished with a team-high 12 points. Smith had a team-high eight rebounds to help Seattle out-rebound Connecticut 33-29. Center Mistie Mims had 11 points for the Sun and a season-high-tying 11 rebounds.
But the important stat is Seattle (13-18) going 0-5 without Bird in the lineup this season. The fourth consecutive Storm loss also guarantees the team will not finish with a winning record for the first time since 2002.
Connecticut (23-9) needed the win in order to stay ahead of Indiana (20-10) for the lead in the Eastern Conference, a position that ensures home-court advantage. Minnesota (25-5) already secured the WNBA’s overall home-court advantage in the postseason.
“It was a barnburner,” said Montgomery, who scored eight of her 10 points in the fourth quarter. “Seattle executes very well on offense, so you know if you mess up, they’re going to make you pay. That’s the toughest part about playing them.”
Bird expects to practice on Monday and play against Chicago on Tuesday. Her injury is one that needs rest. Since the Storm can’t improve its No. 4 seed in the Western Conference playoffs, Bird can miss games without hindering Seattle’s postseason position.
But Bird did play with a similar injury last season. She ultimately had surgery on her right hip flexor following the season.
“I don’t want to stress myself out about that stuff,” Bird said of any possible postseason procedures. “This could be something as simple as it hurt me the other day and I’ll be fine and we talked about it for nothing. I’m hoping that’s the case.”
Jackson will be re-evaluated Monday and is questionable for Tuesday’s game.