EVERETT, Wash. – Of course it was going to come down to the final seconds of the game.
When it’s the Seattle Storm and Phoenix Mercury in a WNBA playoff battle, it so often does.
On Sunday, those final seconds came in overtime … and they belonged to the Mercury.
Katie Lou Samuelson scored 18 points, getting five of those during the extra period, but Diana Taurasi scored six of her 14 during those same five minutes, and Phoenix escaped with an 85-80 second-round knockout victory inside Angel Of The Wind Arena.
That ended the Storm’s bid for a fifth WNBA title.
It was the sixth time Seattle and Phoenix have met in a postseason series, two of which have been knockout one-gamers. All of those series add up to 14 games. This was the second one to go OT, and the sixth one to be decided by five or fewer points.
While Taurasi came up with a pair of big buckets in overtime, it was Sue Bird, her legendary counterpart on the Seattle side, who ultimately forced that additional period. Bird poured in 10 points during the fourth quarter, the last of which came on a 24-foot 3-pointer from the left of the lane with exactly one minute remaining to tie it at 73-73.
Both teams had additional opportunities to win it. But Skylar Diggins-Smith missed two free throws for Phoenix with 40.8 seconds left.
With the shot clock winding down on Seattle’s ensuing possession, Jewell Loyd drove toward the hoop, but her runner bounced off the rim. Ezi Magbegor grabbed the rebound and went for the putback, but it was short and grabbed by the Mercury’s Brianna Turner with 12.5 seconds left.
Diggins-Smith dribbled the ball between the circles as the game clock ticked down to the final seconds. She drove toward the left side and launched a short jumper, only to see it swatted away Mercedes Russell as the horn sounded.
A Samuelson trey at the outset of overtime put the Storm on top, 76-73 with 4:31 to go. Taurasi answered with an off-balance trey from well beyond the top of the arc with 3:44 left, then Turner’s lay-in at 2:58 put Phoenix into the lead, 78-76.
The Storm tied it one more time when Bird found Loyd with an inbounds pass under the hoop for an easy lay-in, making it 78-78 at 2:34.
But from there, Seattle missed its next five shots while Phoenix rang up five straight points: a short jumper by Taurasi, an easy lay-in by Brittney Griner, and a Taurasi free throw, producing an 83-78 lead with just 27.8 seconds to go.
A Samuelson lay-in cut the margin to 83-80 with 16.7 seconds left. Kia Nurse returned it to a two-possession game with a pair of free throws at 15.8 seconds. Seattle had two more shots, but Loyd’s lay-in fell short, as did Stephanie Talbot’s 3-pointer in the final seconds.
ENDING FIRST HALF WITH A HOT HAND
The Mercury, who survived an 83-82 knockout first-rounder against New York last Thursday was quick out of the blocks on Sunday, using a 10-point scoring run to expand a 5-4 lead to 15-4 just four minutes into the game.
That advantage had grown to 12 midway through the second quarter at 32-20.
Then, the Storm got in sync. They ran off the last 15 points of the half, forcing the Mercury to miss their final 10 shots and go scoreless for the last 5:34. It was Bird who gave Seattle its first lead of the day at 33-32 on a 3-pointer from the left of the lane with 1:11 to go before halftime. The Storm took a 35-32 lead into the locker room.
Their run extended into the early part of the third quarter when Bird buried another trey and Phoenix missed its first three shots. Nurse finally got the Mercury back onto the board on a 3-pointer, ending the drought after 7 minutes, 59 seconds.
Through the end of regulation, neither team ever led by more than four.
Bird finished the day with 16 points. Russell logged her third double-double of the year, this one with a career-high 12 rebounds to go along with 10 points. Loyd, who went for a career-high 37 when the Storm ended the regular season with a 94-85 victory against Phoenix on Sept. 17, had 15.
Griner poured in 23 points and pulled down 16 rebounds for Phoenix. Diggins-Smith had 20, and Taurasi added 14.
BIRD, TAURASI SHARE EMOTIONAL MOMENT
After the game, Bird and Taurasi did a television interview at midcourt. As they were talking, the fans took up a chant of “One more year,” and Taurasi waved her hands to urge them on. Bird was clearly emotional during the interview, wiping away tears. The two stars then took off and exchanged their jerseys before trotting off the court.
—— StormBasketball.com ——