Seattle – In the end, the result was the same.
The path to Seattle’s second straight 91-87 win over Phoenix in their best-of-five WNBA semifinals series, however, was a little bit longer than the first.
Five minutes longer, to be exact.
On Tuesday, the Storm needed overtime to push the Mercury to the brink of elimination, once again on the receiving end of a fast-paced fourth quarter comeback at KeyArena. Diana Taurasi had a game-high 28 points to lead Phoenix, with 23 from Brittney Griner and 21 from DeWanna Bonner, while Breanna Stewart led Seattle with 27, and Sue Bird finished with 19.
But unlike Game 1 on Sunday — which saw the Mercury bring a 16-point Seattle lead down to two — Phoenix was able to close the gap, erasing once was a 19-point advantage on the back of Taurasi’s shooting from beyond the arc.
After the team started the night a stunning 0-for-14 from 3-point range, Taurasi hit three of them in the final two minutes, including the game-tying shot from the corner with three seconds left in regulation.
“It is a shot that I have probably practiced a million times,” she said. “I got a little bit of air space and it went down. It just felt good to go in.”
Seattle head coach Dan Hughes pointed to the presence of the 14-year veteran as one of the main reasons Phoenix was able to mount comebacks on both nights.
“I think it’s her ability to impact the game and find space and opportunity to finish,” he said.
Phoenix continued their push into the extra period, taking an early four-point lead at 85-81. But foul trouble would loom large, with Griner picking up her sixth just over a minute in, while Seattle took full advantage of its trips to the free-throw line in the closing moments, with Jewell Loyd and Bird combining to go 7-of-8 as the Storm scored 10 of the game’s final 12 points.
Those numbers frustrated Phoenix head coach Sandy Brondello.
“It’s a game that we should’ve won,” she said. “In that overtime, being 7-to-2 in fouls … [we] couldn’t catch a break. Really, that’s what it came down to.”
Bigger still was allowing Seattle to build a near-20-point gap in the first place. That was in no small part due to Jordin Canada’s performance off the bench, finishing with 12 points on 5-of-5 shooting.
“We started off well and then it kind of all went downhill from there,” Brondello said. “We just kept breaking down. With the speed, we’re our own worst enemy at times with the turnovers — silly turnovers that lead to easy baskets.”
But for a second straight game, the Mercury had a late run in them yet, outscoring Seattle 28-12 in the fourth quarter. Half of those points came from Taurasi.
“We made a couple shots here, caused some turnovers there,” Taurasi said. “They missed some shots. We were able to get into some sort of rhythm that I don’t think we’ve been able to get to in this series so far. It was a slew of things and we kept cutting the lead little by little. That shows a lot of fight from our team. I’m really proud of how we stuck together throughout the game when we weren’t necessarily playing well.”
On the other end, Bird said her team “relaxed” as Phoenix made their runs on both nights.
“I think that what we do well offensively is move, we share the ball, we are constantly cutting, we have five threats at all times, that is where our strength lies,” she said. When we relax, we end up standing and when we do that it is much harder for us to execute what we are trying to do, and we don’t get the shots we want. It is less about our offense and the actual X’s and O’s of it, but more about how we are running it. We can’t let what the other team is doing dictate how we play.”
Where Hughes takes pride is in how Seattle responded in overtime to seeing its lead disappear. That kind of bounce back isn’t easy, he said.
“As bad as I feel about the fact they got back in the game, the fact that we could win it, it’s pretty special,” Hughes said.
The series now shifts to the desert, with a must-win Game 3 for the Mercury in Phoenix on Friday night. If necessary, Game 4 would be Sept. 2, with a winner-take-all Game 5 in Seattle on Sept. 4.
- Attendance: 9,686. It was the seventh straight sell-out for the Storm.
- Faces in the Crowd: For the second straight game, Basketball Hall of Famer Bill Russell was on hand, and visited the Storm locker room after the game to give his congratulations on the win. Seattle Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner, and cornerback Bradley McDougald were also in attendance.
- Seattle has now won back-to-back postseason games for the first time since 2010.