Diana Taurasi celebrates with teammates after hitting the go-ahead shot to help secure the victory for the Phoenix Mercury over the Seattle Storm. August 16, 2011. Photo by Ryan Malone, SB Nation Arizona
The Phoenix Mercury broke a nine-game losing streak to the Seattle Storm by over-coming an 18-point first half deficit. The game came down to the wire and finished with a couple of thrilled defensive stops by the home team.
The Phoenix Mercury had lost nine straight times to the Seattle Storm going into Tuesday's game. That kind of streak can take on a life of its own and that certainly seems to be the case here.
The Mercury typically can't get into any kind of offensive flow against head coach Brian Agler's Storm defense and the Seattle players have so much confidence on the offensive end that a normally below average shooting team plays like the basket is a mile wide.
It doesn't help Phoenix that they are getting so little production or defense from the point guard position which is where Seattle is strongest.
The Mercury regrouped in the second half and battled back to finally break the streak behind a solid defensive effort from the bench and better overall play.
Here's how it happened.
The Storm started the game by aggressively using super point guard Sue Bird off screens in the first quarter to build a 21-13 lead with 13 of those points belonging to Bird. In the second, the Mercury threw out all kinds of lineups and combinations which resulted in an even bigger deficit that ballooned to 18 for the guests.
Taurasi picked up two quick fouls (her 3rd and 4th) at the end of the half and Penny Taylor made several uncharacteristic sloppy plays. With the stars not shining bright, the rest of the squad looked less than stellar. The bench was a complete no-show early.
The Mercury turned up the pressure in the third quarter with a strong effort from Taylor and great defensive intensity from Marie Ferdinand-Harris off the bench. They still were only able to cut five points off the lead which took us into the fourth quarter with the Storm up 59-50 and shooting over 53 percent from the field.
The momentum carried into the final quarter with the Mercury quickly cutting the deficit down to two points within a couple of minutes before a stretch of both teams exchanging buckets held the margin steady.
The Storm blinked first with a turnover and the resulting Mercury bucket tied the game at 67 with about five minutes to go. After a Seattle time out, the Storm came right back with their best weapon -- Sue Bird. But the Mercury answered with a UConn star of their own -- Diana Taurasi.
The energy in the building was fantastic and the last two WNBA Champions responded with a show.
It all came down to the wire with the contest tied at 79 with 26 seconds, Storm ball. With DeWanna Bonner defending Bird, the Mercury came up with a steal and Taurasi scored in transition with six seconds remaining. Another stop by Phoenix and the streak was over.
Taurasi led the Mercury with 24 points. Taylor and Candice Dupree added 16 and Ferdinand-Harris and DeWanner Bonner led a bench that was non-existent in the first half to a respectable effort. Bird finished with 23.
After the game both coaches acknowledged that Phoenix was able to take advantage of the Storm switching defense which put a smaller defender against a Mercury post player.
"They were just posting us deep in the lane on our defensive scheme an we didn't fight around and got pinned deep and they took advantage of it," Storm coach Brian Agler said.
Penny Taylor credited the comeback with increased aggression in the second half, "I think we were so passive and waiting for some else to do something and (Diana) really kept us in the game. In the second half we all took the initiative to be aggressive, make them foul, and once we got to the free-throw line we got some easy points."
Phoenix is now 14-10 on the season and in second place in the Western Conference. The Mercury's home stand continues on Saturday against the San Antonio Silver Stars at 7:00 p.m.