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.