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.
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.