The Phoenix Mercury came out with the kind of playoff intensity and focus you would expect to see from a team facing elimination. They took an 11-2 lead in the early minutes and never trailed in the game. The Seattle Storm shot the ball extremely well from long range but the energy and desire advantage went to the home team. Phoenix out-rebounded Seattle 37-24.
"Phoenix played a great game tonight. They were the aggressors from start to finish. I think the points in the paint (58-12, Phx) tells you that right from the observation of the stat sheet. They played like their backs were against the wall and they responded very well," Storm coach Brian Agler said after the game.
The Storm shot 13-22 from three but only had four offensive rebounds on the night. The Mercury ended up shooting 55 percent from the field. Phoenix benefited from the return of center Nakia Sanford who played 19 minutes and provided a physical inside presence that was missing when she was forced to miss Game 1 with a knee injury.
Mercury coach Corey Gaines called Sanford a "soldier" in his postgame press conference. "If you would have seen her up in Seattle, how much it hurt her. She just couldn't, she couldn't move. At shootaround (this morning) she still couldn't move so it was kind of questionable if she was going to be able to play but she's a veteran. Somehow, she figured it out."
The Mercury led by as much as 15 in the fourth quarter before Seattle made a run and cut it to within six. Phoenix was able to hold on thanks to a key bucket from DeWanna Bonner who was named the WNBA Sixth Women of the Year for the third-straight time before the game.
The Mercury were led by a strong performance from forward Candice Dupree who 29 points and seven rebounds. Diana Taurasi added 26 points. For Seattle, Sue Bird had 17 points while Tanisha Wright added 18 of her own.
"It's no secret we've had a lot of struggles against Seattle but we've always taken the good things that we've done. I think we came back to Phoenix not defeated one bit," Taurasi said. "They took care of home court. We took care of home court. We've seen how we can be in Seattle...and we have to make a concerted effort to make sure we don't look like that again and it takes all of us."
Gaines said Game 1 in Seattle was the worst his team has played in the playoffs. Going into Game 2 he didn't give them a big pep talk, instead relying on their experience and pride to generate the needed energy and effort. It will be interesting to see which Mercury team shows up on Monday for Game 3.
The series is now tied 1-1 with the final and deciding game coming Monday back in Seattle where the Storm are 16-2 on the season. Game 3 is at 7:00 p.m. on ESPN 2. Phoenix will have to play with the same or even more energy and desperation they showed Saturday night if they hope to beat Seattle and advance to the Western Conference Finals.