The Seattle Storm held off the Phoenix Mercury in the first game of their best-of-five semifinals last Sunday to take a 1-0 lead in the series.
Defeating the Mercury 91-87 was a tough order as both teams know each other well and know that multiple players can hurt you on both sides of the ball.
After the first game Storm head coach Dan Hughes talked about how he saw the game develop after having some time off.
“It was a good ball game for us. You’re off a week and you wonder,” said Hughes. “I would expect us by the second half to have some rhythm but I wondered what we would find in the first half. To me, I felt like we did a pretty good job of getting into the rhythm of the game. Two offensive teams that can really score. It was hard to guard each other in a lot of situations but probably the key, to me, was that we had a couple defensive runs that led us to kind of play out of the defense and create some scoring in bunches and I thought that was really pivotal and really balanced scoring today for us. We’re glad to get back in to playing with rhythm.”
Seattle extended a lead at different times in the game getting it up to 16 at one point but Phoenix kept working their way back into the game.
Playing in a close game in their first playoff game was a learning experience for the Storm and a time to continue adding to their repertoire of ways to win.
“I think that we’ve been doing that all year. We’ve been learning how to win off our defense, and that is something that we have been focusing on, and going into this game we knew that’s got to be key,” said Seattle forward Jewell Loyd. “When you’re playing Phoenix, you know D’s [Diana Taurasi] going to get hot, she is a different player in the playoffs. Defensively we had some good stops, and good steals. AC [Alysha Clark] did phenomenal on making it tough on D all night. It was a team effort in that regard as well. For us, we’ve been focusing on winning off of our defense.”
Defense was key as the Storm were able to stem the tide each time the Mercury attempted a comeback. Clark was tasked with defending Taurasi and even though Taurasi ended the game with 25 points they were baskets that she had to work for.
“Taurasi is just an amazing player. She has any kind of space she makes you play,” said Coach Hughes. “The thing that I thought AC really did a great job of was, what I call early work, she was able to locate her made Diana use a lot more activity to find the rhythm and there’s the reality of that. If (Taurasi) can just walk into space you might as well run to the other end and play offense because she can score on you. And I thought AC did a lot of early work. She really understood the situation, understood probably what she was going to get, we tried to bring some packages to her but just the fact that she’s in a stance, ready and working the plays before Diana gets rhythm and it’s still hard to stop her. You got to have a grace about you because you can do all the things right and she can still score.”
Taurasi was a definite problem that Seattle will need to continue focusing on ways to try and slow her down. One way Taurasi slowed herself down was getting a little heated with the officials.
As the second quarter drew to a close Taurasi was assessed a technical that set her off to the point that teammate Brittany Griner had to hold her back from heading to the officials.
“We’re our own worst enemy sometimes and our emotions get up,” said Phoenix head coach Sandy Brondello. “Some of the foul calls we just weren’t happy about, but it is what it is and we have to try and stop the runs that Seattle has. That’s the biggest thing for us.”
Taurasi had her own outlook on the technical and what she seemed to feel was an overreaction.
“I was going to go talk to my teammate and apparently they thought I was going to go and kill someone,” said Taurasi. “They acted like I had a gun in my back pocket.”
The Mercury know how tough it is to win at the KeyArena but they also showed that though they didn’t get the win they made a run that got them close to pulling off a playoff win on one of the toughest courts to play.
“It just shows that we are close,” said Brondello. “We have an opportunity in the next game. This is a great team and they can score from multiple players. I thought we hurt ourselves by not playing with enough poise on the offensive end and having those turnovers that led to easy baskets. We spoke about that leading into this game – this team scores baskets really quickly in transition. We have to stay the position a little bit more. We have to execute our sets a little bit more. It wasn’t one of Brittney’s (Griner) better games. She’ll be better in the next game and when we have a little bit more of an inside presence I think that’ll help us.”
While Phoenix is working on getting Griner back into the game and executing better the Storm will counter with the fact that they won’t falter if things get close.
“I think just the fact we didn’t stop. We didn’t freeze when things got tight,” said Storm forward and WNBA MVP Breanna Stewart. “Obviously playing Phoenix, you know that they’re always in the game, no matter if it’s a two-point game or a ten point game, they have an opportunity to come back and win. We made some hustle plays that gave us multiple possessions, especially the one (where), we have the shot, we got the offensive rebound, passed out, Jewell [Loyd] hit that big shot. That was huge.”
Seattle ended the first game with four of their five starters going into double figures lead by Stewart with 28 points. Center Natasha Howard hit 20 points while Loyd put in 23 and Bird scored 10 points and dished 10 assists.
Besides Taurasi’s 25 points the Mercury were led by forward DeWanna Bonner with 27 points and 13 rebounds while Griner added 13 and guard Briann January put in 10 points.
The teams meet for their second game at 7 pm on Tuesday, August 28th at the KeyArena. The first 5,000 fans will get Breanna Stewart MVP t-shirts.