Diana Taurasi dejected after losing Game 2. (Photo by Ryan Malone)

Mercury Lose Game 2 In Heartbreaking Fashion, Storm Advance To Finals

What a great game. You have to give the Seattle Storm a lot of credit for that comeback. And, of course, Sue Bird does what she does and hits yet another game winner.

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Mercury Loss Of Focus And Storm Resiliency True To Form For Both Teams

Mercury fans and most WNBA observers expected Phoenix to win Game 2 at home. Heart of champion and all that.

When the game was close through the first period ,it was still at a Mercury pace and looking good. When the Mercury went on a 22-9 run in the second quarter and built a 15-point lead, it was looking better. With about five minutes to play and a 13-point Phoenix lead, it seemed like a Game 3 in Seattle was all but assured.

What happened next, in retrospect, wasn't nearly as unexpected as it might seem.

In fact, the Seattle Storm coming back late and the Phoenix Mercury losing their focus was par for the course for both teams, proving once again the old adage that who you are in the regular season matters when it comes time for the playoffs.

You are who you are: Mercury = inconsistent. Storm = resilient.

For the Mercury, that inconsistency means ... well, let's let Penny Taylor explain what that means.

"We lost focus on some important plays," Taylor said. "They got offensive rebounds. We weren't putting it in on our end. I feel like we weren't attacking the basket to try and get a few of those foul calls back that they were getting. We were taking more jump shots, which it's easy for them to not call fouls. We let it slip away. We relaxed, maybe lost focus."

She then went on to put what happened today in context of the season.

"And this is a little bit what we've done all season. Inconsistency. We've started not doing things and then we had phases where we were going really well and won a few games in a row and then let it slip away again. It's been that kind of year and tonight was sort of an indication of the kind of year we've had."

Just so you don't think that's only one girl's opinion, Diana Taurasi said basically the same thing.

"That's been the story line of our season. When we're tuned in we're really good, and little by little, we just lose focus," the 9-for-15 shooting super star said.

"We had chances to win but we just didn't get it done. Not just tonight but throughout the whole year. We've been pretty inconsistent as a team and individuals and it shows in games like this."

It wasn't just the end of the game either. The Storm finished the game 22-9 in the final two minutes of each quarter combined. You are who you are.

On the other side, coming from behind, trusting each other, showing resiliency was exactly how Seattle amassed a 28-6 record. WNBA MVP Lauren Jackson talked about that.

"There's been numerous times this year that we've been down in the final quarter and been able to sort of work our way back in to the game. That's just the confidence that we have in each other. They relaxed a little bit I think and we just took advantage of the opportunities that we got," Jackson said, acknowledging both her own team's history of fighting back as well as recognizing that the Mercury let them back in the game.

Where do the Mercury go from here?

Taylor again points out the team's struggles with end of game situations and the inability to close teams out.

"There were more games this year than we ever had with last-second plays and last-minute losing by a couple of points and three points and under. That's something we have to fix next year. Whatever Corey (Gaines) feels we need to do to fix that is really something we need to work on," Taylor said.

She added that regular season play effecting post season play.

"You can't expect things to just turn around. Everyone felt good in the San Antonio series, we really stepped it up and we took it into this series, but they (Seattle) are a better team," Taylor said.

Getting specific

It's a bit too soon to say for sure but two things stand out.

The first is the lackadaisical play of Tangela Smith.

She had some good moments both in the season and in this series but her 3-for-10 shooting today and inconsistent energy can't be ignored even though you never want to pin a loss on one player.

Smith also gets the blame for not switching the screen on the final play that resulted in Sue Bird getting an open look for the game-wining three. Here's a break-down of the play.

I asked Smith, an unrestricted free agent after this season, if she plans on returning to the league she's given 12 years to - she didn't answer.

Smith wasn't the only one but her play at the end of this game was also indicative of what we saw all season and yet she ended up with 36 minutes in the while Kara Braxton only played 13.

Asked why Braxton played so few minutes when her size could have helped close what ended up as a 38-29 Storm rebounding advantage, Gaines gave kind of a non-answer.

"I've got to watch the game again. Off-hand we've won games where we've got out-rebounded. Some teams it may be a big key. We've won championships getting out-rebounded," he said.

The second is losing Cappie Pondexter.

When the trade happened the one thing that we worried the team would miss would be Pondexter's ability to create and make big shots late in a game. If you are going to be an offensive-oriented team who doesn't rely on a defense-first philosophy then you need that.

Candice Dupree did a great job once she adjusted to the team and the team got used to playing with her, but at the end of the day (game) the lack of a slasher to create a shot late in the clock was missed.

Bonner and Taylor not right

DeWanna Bonner obviously didn't play her best ball this postseason or really since about the middle of the year. She looks tired and lacking the pep in her step and that incredible energy she's known for.

Maybe that's a sophomore wall and her body and mind adjusting to the rigors of being away from home on a year-round basketball schedule. Or maybe she's playing through an injury or illness we don't know about. Either way, her six points and two rebounds in 21 minutes were very un-Bonner like.

Lets hope she bounces back strong next summer. The Mercury clearly missed what she can bring.

Penny Taylor (eight pointss, four rebounds, two assists) also didn't have her best stuff, but in this case, it's pretty clear why: She injured her left shoulder in the fourth quarter of Game 1 in Seattle and didn't practice in the two days since.

She reportedly couldn't lift her hand above shoulder-height and may (not confirmed) have received an injection in the shoulder prior to the game.

Taylor wouldn't use her shoulder as an excuse, although today it probably would have been warranted.

"I wouldn't say it effected me at all today, it's just part of it. Sometimes you've got things going on, I'm sure everyone does. I'm sure they have a few of them. Today it was the shoulder, but it's been something all year. Nothing I couldn't play with," the tough Aussie said.

Penny claimed to have full use of the shoulder during the game and said it only bothered her at the free throw line (she missed two) because the tape tightened things up.

Meek to the rescue

What makes certain players great is their ability to step up into the void and Temeka Johnson did that today. She's by far the smallest player on the court (which is how Sue Bird got a critical blocked shot), but Meek sensed the moment in Game 2 and rose to the occasion.

Johnson finished with 15 points (playoff career high) and 12 assists (ties career high). She was aggressive when she needed to be and recognized that the defense was going to sag off of her and deny some of her passes to Dupree.

Gaines obviously wanted to attack Bird on the pick and roll which lead to the assists and allowed Taurasi to play off the ball and drain those 3s (seven of them which ties a career playoff high).

"We did everything we wanted to do except win, but I think it came down to getting stops and we didn't get them when we needed to, Seattle came out on top," Johnson said after the game.

Not much more to say beyond that, is there?

Good luck to the Seattle Storm and their fans. They deserved the sweep.

For more on the game, visit SBN Seattle and SBN’s Swish Appeal.

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Mercury Can't Hold On To 4th Quarter Lead, Seattle Storm Advance To WNBA Finals

Phoenix, AZ (Sports Network) - Sue Bird's three-pointer with 2.8 seconds left in the fourth quarter lifted the Seattle Storm into the WNBA Finals with a 91-88 win over defending champion Phoenix Mercury in Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals.

Swin Cash finished with a team-best 23 points and 2010 WNBA MVP Lauren Jackson went for 20 points and eight rebounds for the Storm, who outscored the Mercury 30-17 in the fourth quarter to advance to the Finals where they will face either Atlanta or New York. Bird ended with 16 points and eight assists.

Diana Taurasi led all scorers with 28 points for Phoenix, but missed a potential game-tying three-pointer as time expired. Candice Dupree chipped in with 17 points in defeat.

Trailing 88-76 with 3:21 remaining, Cash's three-point play ignited a 15-0 run. A Jackson jumper and three-point play sandwiched around a pair of free throws from Camille Little got Seattle to within two, 88-86, with 1:15 left.

Taurasi's jumper on the Mercury's next possession was off the mark and Cash evened it with a layup on a nice feed from Bird with 36.2 seconds on the clock. After a Phoenix timeout, Temeka Johnson's short jumper spun out and the Storm called a timeout do draw up a final play.

With the shot clock winding down, Bird took the pass from Tanisha Wright well beyond the three-point arc and drilled it for a 91-88 game. Following a 20- second timeout by Phoenix, Taurasi's contested three wouldn't fall, allowing Seattle to prevail.

The Mercury held a 24-22 lead after the opening 12 minutes and they built their advantage to 48-40 at the half. Tangela Smith knocked down a pair of free throws in the final seconds of the third quarter to put Phoenix up by double digits, 71-61, heading into the fourth.

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WNBA WCF Game 2: Mercury Facing Elimination Vow to Battle Back

"Do it again in 2010"

That's the Phoenix Mercury marketing slogan for this year's playoff run and today it will be tested for the first time as the playoff run that so far is only three-games deep is facing it's first elimination battle.

It's a position the Mercury are familiar with and not all that concerned about. The first game in Seattle is easily ignored between Taurasi's fluke poor shooting game and the generally flat play from both sides.

Look for the Mercury to play with a little more pep in their step and a little less zone in their D.

Game time is noon, Arizona. The game will be broadcast on ABC TV.

Game notes:

  • Phoenix is 8-2 all-time in elimination games and 7-0 in the last two seasons.
  • No team in WNBA history has beaten another team seven times in one season as the Storm have done so far this summer.
  • Of course, Diana Tauarsi has never lost a playoff series in her seven-year career.

For more series coverage see also SB Nation Seattle and Swish Appeal.

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Mercury Cold Shooting And Interesting Tactics Lead To Game 1 Loss

When Diana Taurasi goes 2-for-15 shooting and finishes with six turnovers and six fouls and only one assist then you know the Mercury are going to have a hard time winning.

She was aggressive early attacking the paint but the Storm made a concerted effort to put several defenders in front of her. Taurasi clearly was looking for calls that didn't come and it seemed to impact the rest of her game.

Taurasi accepted responsibility for her poor game.

"I couldn't make a shot," she said. "I never blame the defense on missing shots. I had some really good looks, which I usually knock down, but tonight they didn't go down. Hopefully on Sunday I can get it together a little bit."

There's little doubt that Taurasi will bounce back with a better showing on Sunday for Game 2.

Overall, the poor shooting from both teams was some what understandable given the long layoff but there were two decisions from Mercury coach Corey Gaines that were ... interesting.

Zone defense?

The Mercury defense has improved considerable this season and especially late in the summer. Despite better rotations and improved aggressiveness, Gaines went almost exclusively to his rover zone in the first half. The result was a passive look from the Phoenix team and 47 points allowed in the first twenty minutes.

Lauren Jackson was able to get open for shots both inside and out and scored 17 of her game total 23 points in the opening two periods.

In the second half, Gaines went back to the man-to-man defense we've seen more of recently and it was much more effective. The Storm were held to 35 points on 38 percent shooting in the final two periods.

Going small

The second interesting decision was how little Gaines used his best lineup which consists of DeWanna Bonner on the floor instead of undersized point guard Temeka Johnson. Bonner finished with only 22 minutes compared to 32 for Johnson. DeWanna certainly didn't look as sharp as we've seen her and perhaps she's dealing with an unreported injury or illness.

Kara Braxton was effective in her floor time as well finishing with a well-deserved +1 while all the Mercury starters where in the minus. Braxton was able to score against Lauren Jackson in the post on several occasions and was and efficient 5-for-7 from the field in her limited minutes (13:42).

Box score anomaly

Some interesting findings looking at the box score from this game:

  • The Mercury only shot 38% but the Storm weren't much better at 38.8 percent
  • Both teams shot poorly from the line: 64.7 percent for Phoenix, 69 percent for Seattle
  • The Storm hit 10 three's but took 25 shots to do it while the Mercury hit 9 three's on only 15 shots (Taylor was 4-for-4)
  • The Storm were +6 in total rebounds but only +1 on the offensive glass and both teams finished with 13 second chance points
  • The Mercury didn't run much in this game (as expected against Seattle's tough defense) but they were up 11-to-6 in fast break points
  • The Mercury had 36 points in the paint which is a bit low for them but the Storm only score 20 in the painted area
  • The Mercury had 11 turnovers and the Storm 10 with the Mercury scoring 10 points off turnovers and Seattle 5
  • Phoenix had 22 fouls compared to 20 for Seattle

Looking at these numbers it's hard to understand how this game wasn't closer. The big difference was at the line.

  • The Storm had 29 free throw attempts compared to only 17 for Phoenix and the 9 addition points scored from the charity stripe were a big difference in the game
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Jackson, Storm Run Over Mercury To Take Game 1, 82-74

Seattle, WA (Sports Network) – League MVP Lauren Jackson finished with 23 points and 17 rebounds, leading the Seattle Storm to an 82-74 victory over the Phoenix Mercury in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals.

Jackson was named the WNBA’s MVP earlier Thursday, winning the award for a third time. Additionally, Storm coach Brian Agler was named the Coach of the Year on Thursday.

Jackson validated her honor with her performance, which fueled the Storm as they took the first contest of this best-of-three series. Game 2 is set for Sunday in Phoenix.

Svetlana Abrosimova added 16 points for Seattle, which is in the West finals for the first time since 2004, when the Storm went on to win the title. Seattle had swept the Los Angeles Sparks in the West semis.

Penny Taylor had 16 points and six assists for the Mercury, the defending league champions who swept San Antonio in their semifinal series. Candice Dupree added 15 points and 11 boards, but Diana Taurasi shot just 2-of-15 and scored nine points in the loss.

Free throws were a big difference in the contest, as Seattle made 20-of-29 while Phoenix sank 11-of-17.

The Storm jumped out to a big lead, as two Abrosimova foul shots gave them a 17-3 lead with three minutes left in the opening quarter. Seattle led 23-14 moving to the second and continued to play in front, taking a 47-33 advantage into halftime.

Dupree poured in nine points in the third quarter, when the Mercury trimmed their deficit. A Temeka Johnson three-pointer with a minute to go had Phoenix within 59-55, but Seattle scored the next five points to take a nine-point lead into the final frame.

Phoenix was within 74-67 after a Kara Braxton layup with 4:23 to play, but Jackson and Swin Cash answered with a pair of free throws each to effectively seal the victory.

For more post game coverage visit SB Nation Seattle and Swish Appeal

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Phoenix Mercury Don't Expect Any Storm Surprises

One of the funny things about basketball is the dynamic that goes on between doing your thing and focusing on your own team versus adjusting and reacting to what your opponent's strengths and weaknesses are.

We love to talk about adjustments that coaches make, especially in the playoffs, but the reality is that winning teams are trying to force their will on the other side. They want to play within their comfort zone and make the other guy react to it and get out of theirs.

The Phoenix Suns were given a lot of credit for employing (with some success) a zone defense against the LA Lakers in the NBA Western Conference Finals, but the reality is they were forced into that because they had no other options for stopping the better team. You will rarely see the team that's playing from it's heels win a series.

When things get really fun is when you have two stubborn and confident coaches who understand this and are dead-set convinced that they've got the right plan. It's that battle of wills that makes playoff basketball so great and it's why a series is always more fun than a single game tournament.

Mercury coach Corey Gaines certainly isn't expecting any surprises from the Seattle Storm.

"Nope, seen it all. Unless he comes out with a 1-3-1 press, which I would love, or a 2-2-1 old John Wooden full court press," Gaines joked before leaving Phoenix for tonight's Game 1 in Seattle.

Storm coach Brian Agler is one of the best basketball minds around. He understands the game as well as anyone and gets the most out of his players and Gaines understands that as well.

"He does his things, we do our thing. I don't think he's going to change from that," he said.

Gaines is ready for that as well. He doesn't expect Agler to change things up at all, in fact he's hoping he doesn't,  "Hopefully what we do makes them do something we're used to seeing. It's about us."

And so the chess match begins.

Gaines and his team feel like they know how the Storm will react to different situations are are prepared for that. If Agler adjusts and changes his plan to throw off the Mercury he's also playing out of his own team's comfort zone. The same of course, is true going the other way.

In the end, the team with the most options -- which is a result of having better talent and being well prepared -- will win.

Game on.

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