Intense Mercury look to knot semifinal series with Storm
PHOENIX (AP) — Intensity is a main reason Phoenix is still alive in its WNBA semifinal series against Seattle. The Mercury had it in abundance in Game 3 on Friday night. The Storm, not so much.
That was the assessment of the Storm, anyway, in the wake of an 86-66 loss to Phoenix that cut Seattle’s lead in the best-of-five series to 2-1.
“They clearly came out as a team whose back was against the wall and just had a very determined mindset,” the Storm’s Sue Bird said, “much more intensity than we came out with. And with that, loose balls go your way. You’ve got aggressive people making shots. For us, we just never really amped it up.”
Another Mercury win on Sunday and the series would face a winner-take-all Game 5 Tuesday night in Seattle.
“Being down 0-2 to the best team in the league — not easy,” Phoenix’s Diana Taurasi said after the team went through a light workout on Saturday. “But we took on the challenge and tomorrow’s going to be just as difficult. Hopefully we bring that same effort.”
Yvonne Turner will be in the Mercury starting lineup for the second game in a row as Stephanie Talbot goes through the concussion protocol. Coach Sandy Brondello said she was hopeful Talbot would be back if there’s a Game 5.
With Taurasi having a rare off night offensively, Turner emerged as a surprise star with 19 points. DeWanna Bonner had 27 points and 11 rebounds and Brittney Griner had 21 points and 11 boards for the Mercury.
Seattle got 19 points from Natasha Howard and 15 points and 11 rebounds from league MVP Breanna Stewart but lost its eighth consecutive playoff road game dating to 2011.
“I thought their energy was immediate and consistent,” Storm coach Dan Hughes said. “And I think it’s about learning. Our team has all year I think learn things. You can talk about the environment and what the sense of urgency that Phoenix was going to have. But now we saw it. And so we have to be a team that learns something from that experience as to what now we have to do.”
Shoot better, would be one thing. The Storm shot 37 percent (29-of-79). Their 66 points were their second-lowest total of the season.
Taurasi said it’s a great sign to see her team win when she wasn’t that involved offensively, making just 3 of 11 shots and scoring eight points.
“It’s huge,” she said, “and that feels good. I think it feels good for our group. It feels good for a lot of people on this team. Sometimes you need someone else to pull you through the hole.”
Turner’s presence as essentially a second playmaker on the floor energized the Mercury. It was a breakout game for a player who built a reputation in Europe before finally getting a chance in the WNBA.
“She can do that,” Brondello said. “I think it helps any player when they start. It just really does. She’s a great little player, a great little competitor. She does it every game over in Europe so it’s good to see her get that opportunity and play really well.”
Seattle had the WNBA’s best regular-season record at 26-8. The Storm waited while Phoenix survived a pair of one-game playoffs against Dallas and Connecticut. The Storm won the season series with Phoenix 2-1. Seattle won twice in Phoenix, the Mercury once in Seattle.
“Of course we’d love to win tomorrow,” Bird said, “and they’re going to be literally dying to win. So it’s just going to be another tough game. It was physical yesterday. The refs let us play.
“I don’t know. You don’t want to analyze too much. You have an identity as a team and that’s what got you here and you want to stick to that as much as possible while being smart and making the adjustments that you have to make.”
The Atlanta Dream lead the Washington Mystics 2-1 in the other best-of-five semifinal series with their Game 4 also on Sunday.