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ATLANTA -- There was a time a few years ago when Seattle forward Swin Cash wasn't just worried about how her injured back was affecting her basketball career. She was upset about how it was impacting her entire life.
"I continued to keep playing and dealing with the pain," she said. "But I wasn't able to move the same or train the same. When I finally decided to have the surgery -- I've just been a happier person. Not just with basketball, but off the court as well.
"My back was causing me problems in my life. Not being able to sit down or go for a walk or shop. I had to just lie down in my apartment a lot. But now I feel like I'm a better person."
And she has definitely returned to a very high level as a player. Cash, who won two WNBA titles while with Detroit, added a third Thursday, this one as a member of the Seattle Storm, where she was traded after the 2007 season.
Cash, the former UConn standout, was always known as a ferocious rebounder and a nimble, strong presence on the low block. But she has also now developed a very good 3-point shot.
During this regular season, Cash made 35 baskets from long range. Consider that she'd hit only 47 in the previous eight seasons combined. And in this postseason, Cash's 3-point shooting was exceptional: She was 13-of-26 from behind the arc in the seven games.
In Thursday's WNBA Finals-clinching 87-84 victory over Atlanta, Cash had 18 points, six rebounds and four assists. She was 3-of-5 from 3-point range.
Sue Bird played alongside Cash for four seasons at UConn, when the long-range shot was really not handy in Cash's toolbox. Then after attempting 126 3-pointers -- and making 33 -- during her first three WNBA seasons, Cash really shied away from the shot.
Following a knee injury near the end of the 2004 season, Cash went 4-of-34 from behind the arc over the next four seasons combined
"She didn't do it at all for a long time," Bird said. "She had some growing pains -- and injury was also a big part of that. When she first came into the WNBA, she was still posting up -- they played her at the 3, but she wasn't really a 3. As time went on, she was making that change.
"Even last year, she wasn't the 3-point shooter that she was this year. But that's Swin -- she went overseas to Korea, worked on her game, and as soon as she came back you saw that. There are just not many players who actually do that. That's a lot of credit to Swin."
Cash said she realized that her becoming a legitimate 3-point threat was one of the best ways she could help teammate Lauren Jackson inside.
"I practice it a lot, but I had to learn to do it with confidence," Cash said. "Knowing 'Hey, this is my shot.' My teammates at the beginning of the year saw I was shooting it with confidence and encouraged me. In the past, other teams might have said, 'Oh, we can sag off of Swin,' and that created more of a problem for Lauren.
|Swin Cash hit 3 of 5 3-point attempts, including two treys in the third quarter, as Seattle rallied from a six-point deficit.|
"Whereas now, I think people have to respect my 3-point shot, and it makes our team more versatile. I was really happy to contribute that this year."
And it was a crucial part of the Storm's Game 3 victory Thursday. In the third quarter, Seattle actually looked a little rattled, and Atlanta took a six-point lead with 3 minutes, 10 seconds left in the period.
Then, erasing the Dream's momentum, Cash knocked down back-to-back 3-pointers.
"I thought it was a big key in the game," Atlanta coach Marynell Meadors said.
Bird added another 3 after that, with the assist to Cash. Bird's basket put Seattle up 62-59, and the Storm never again surrendered the lead.
"Our team had really great poise all season," Cash said . "Every time teams would make runs, we'd take a deep breath and say, 'Let's go.' We just never felt things were out of our control."
Jackson was named the Finals MVP, which was a great choice. But a case also could be made for Bird, who had 38 points and 20 assists in the three contests, plus hit the game-winning basket in the opener and showed leadership in every way possible. And a nod should also go to Cash, who, despite foul trouble in Game 1, ended up with a combined 46 points and 14 rebounds.
With Atlanta making a late run with just more than a minute and a half left Thursday, Cash's defensive instincts and quick hands were on display. She made a clean pick of Sancho Lyttle, who looked to have an avenue to score in transition. That steal led to a Bird basket and an eight-point Storm lead.
"People really forgot about Swin," Bird said. "They talked about her poorly, and her play. A lot of it had to do with injuries, but that's a tough thing for a player. And I think it hurt Swin. But she took it and responded."
Both Cash and Bird came through for their former UConn coach, Geno Auriemma, who said he hoped for a sweep in the WNBA Finals so that both of them -- along with the Dream's Angel McCoughtry -- would be joining him that much sooner with Team USA to prepare for the upcoming world championship in the Czech Republic.
"Yeah, it's just for him," Bird said with a sarcastic grin of the Storm's 3-0 series victory. "Although I heard he was going to say that no matter who won the first game. He just wanted a sweep, period."
To that end, Cash joked that she felt pressure to win not just for Seattle's sake, but also to make a certain someone happy. Then she laughed and said, "Coach Auriemma, I will see you soon."
Mechelle Voepel, a regular contributor to ESPN.com, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read her blog at voepel.wordpress.com.