By Seth Dahle
The Seattle Storm nearly overcame an 11-point, second-half deficit but ultimately dropped an 85-82 heartbreaker to the Phoenix Mercury on Friday night for Pride Tipoff at KeyArena.
Between the inside play of Brittney Griner and outside shooting of Diana Taurasi, the Mercury (7-5) notched critical buckets to weather several Storm comeback attempts. The duo ultimately finished with 25 points apiece, including six three’s from Taurasi, the WNBA’s all-time scoring leader.
Head coach Jenny Boucek said it came down to allowing 50 points in the first half.
“Just soft defensively, not enough urgency,” said Boucek. “To give up 50 points, let a good team and good players get into a rhythm, and now you’re digging out of a hole and everything has to go right. I don’t really think the root of the problem in this game was the end, I thought it was the first half defensively.”
For the second straight game, Breanna Stewart eclipsed the 20-point mark with 21 points to go along with a team-high eight boards, but it wasn’t enough. She certainly had help with Jewell Loyd, who kept Seattle (6-6) in it during the second half, finishing with 18 points and six assists.
Despite starting hot from the field, Seattle had trouble stopping Phoenix’s offense, as the Mercury nailed three triples in the early going, including two from Taurasi, to jump to an 18-11 advantage. In the next three minutes, the Storm fought back with a 10-1 run to retain a 21-19 edge. Stewart led the way with four points during the stretch, including a triple that cut it to one (18-17) at the 2:34 mark.
The second quarter was back and forth, featuring six lead changes in the opening five minutes. A three by Sue Bird capped a 5-0 Storm run to make it 32-31 Seattle with 6:38 left in the half, but Yvonne Turner scored inside to put Phoenix back up one, and the Mercury kept that advantage for the next five minutes thanks in large part to Taurasi. A triple by Noelle Quinn and two free throws by Stewart ultimately put Seattle back up one (43-42), but Taurasi nailed a long two to tally another lead change and spark an 8-0 Mercury run to close the half.
Although both teams shot over 48 percent in the opening 20 minutes, Phoenix outscored Seattle in the paint, 20-12, as Griner had her way with 10 points in 15 minutes of first-half action.
The Mercury stretched the gap to 11 (57-46) and potentially could’ve made it worse if it hadn’t been for Loyd, who scored Seattle’s first 10 points of the second half. A three by Bird cut the deficit to three (59-56), but Griner scored seven of the Mercury’s next 13 to push it back to nine (72-63).
Stewart’s three made it a five-point (75-70) contest, and Seattle later pulled to within three (77-74) midway through the fourth with buckets by Alysha Clark and Crystal Langhorne. The Storm had its chances to tie the game but couldn’t seem to get over the hump. Camille Little’s layup capped a Langhorne bucket to make it 83-78 Phoenix, and then Danielle Robinson scored on the scoop to push it to seven.
Defensive stops helped Seattle claw its way back in one more time, and two free throws by Loyd cut the margin to three (85-82) at the 32.5 mark. On the Mercury’s next possession, Taurasi got whistled for an offensive foul, giving the Storm a chance to send the game into overtime. After a jump ball, Seattle retained possession with 3.6 seconds left and got a decent look, but Sami Whitcomb’s three at the buzzer came up short.
Langhorne finished with 16 points on 8-for-13 shooting, and Bird added 14 points and eight dimes.
Seattle hits the road to face Washington on Tuesday at 9 a.m. PT. Fans can secure the best seats in the house with Storm 360 Memberships, available now, starting at $180, available online or by calling (206) 217-WNBA (9622). Packages and group discounts are available at 206-217-WNBA (9622).