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Frantic fourth-quarter comeback not enough as Storm fall in opener

Breanna elevates for two of her 22 points. She also had 15 rebounds. Neil Enns/Storm Photos.
Breanna elevates for two of her 22 points. She also had 15 rebounds. Neil Enns/Storm Photos.

Seattle – With just under four minutes to play in Sunday’s season-opener against Phoenix, Breanna Stewart stepped to the line with a chance to tie the game.

After trailing for most of the night, it was the Storm’s first opportunity since the game’s opening moments to pull even.

The third-year forward sunk the first to cut the gap to one.

The second rimmed out. And that was as close as Seattle would get.

It was that kind of night for the Storm, coming up just short in an 87-82 loss to the Mercury at KeyArena. Brittney Griner led all scorers with 29 points for Phoenix, while Breanna Stewart posted her first double-double of the year with 22 points and 15 rebounds.

The Mercury (2-0) led by as many as 14 in the first half, and made good use that cushion for most of the night, as Seattle (0-1) spent most of the final 20 minutes trying to overcome their slow start.

For Storm head coach Dan Hughes, Phoenix showed early on the benefits of having played a regular-season game (an 86-78 win over Dallas on Thursday).

“I will give us credit, I thought as the game progressed, we got closer and closer to what we are,” he said. “and certainly in the second half, I recognized some things that I think this team can be about.”

But each time Seattle pulled within one possession, Phoenix had an answer. That included the sequence after Stewart split her pair of free throws.

“When we had them on the ropes, and we were down one, [they got an] offensive rebound,” Hughes said. “If we clean that up, and go down and take the lead, we’d love to have had the ball in our court with the lead.”

Instead, the Mercury used a 7-0 run over the next two minutes to pull ahead by eight.

Rookie Jordin Canada had nine points and four steals on the night. Neil Enns/Storm Photos.

Seattle mounted one final push over the game’s final 90 seconds, with a Sue Bird jumper and a coast-to-coast steal and score from first-round pick Jordin Canada — who finished with nine points in her WNBA debut — pulling the Storm within four.

Back-and-forth baskets and free throws left the Mercury up three with 10 seconds left. That gave Seattle one final chance to force overtime.

A deflection in the corner on the next possession by Diana Taurasi against Stewart with three seconds to play forced a lengthy review, but the call on the floor kept the ball with the Storm.

But off the ensuing inbounds pass, Stewart’s heel was on the sideline.

“I was supposed to get a screen from Kaleena [Mosqueda-Lewis], and at some point try to get open to the corner,” she said. The ball was low, it was an awkward angle.”

“Big feet,” Bird added.

Finding Stewart in the corner wasn’t the only outlet Hughes had drawn up.

“There was at least two other options, but we made a quick decision,” he said. “We were spacing Sue and Jewell, and I didn’t really come out of it thinking there’s a one home. I was trying to play for a three-point attempt … I didn’t care where it went. You had Stewie, you had Kaleena, you had Jewell, and Sue … I would have taken our odds with that.”

Griner called it a hard-fought win for her team.

“We did a lot of good things in the beginning, and then Seattle…..made a run,” she said. “We didn’t take care of the ball for a stretch and they hurt us, but we responded. It came down to the wire at the end – making stops, getting rebounds – and we were able to get the win.”

The two teams met back-to-back in preseason play, and the Storm took both games. They meet for a final round Wednesday in Phoenix. Tip-off is set for 6 p.m. PT.

“In this league, you got to move on quick and learn. … It can be tough to play the same team over and over — technically it’s our third time — but there’s some advantages to that,” Bird said. “This was a team that played had a game, so they had all those jitters out. Now we have ours out.”

Dribbles:

  • Before the game, the team honored late owner Ginger Ackerley, who passed away in January at the age of 79.
  • Yvonne Turner missed Sunday’s game with a calf injury, while Noelle Quinn was questionable but did not play with a right knee injury.
  • Spotted: Oregon State head coach Scott Rueck was on hand, with Phoenix taking Marie Gulich with the 12th pick in April’s draft. She played three minutes, and finished with two points.
  • Attendance: 8,602.
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