Takeaways: Phoenix Mercury beat Seattle Storm at home in first round of WNBA Playoffs

TEMPE, AZ - SEPTEMBER 6: Brittney Griner
TEMPE, AZ - SEPTEMBER 6: Brittney Griner /

PHOENIX– Despite all of the distraction and discomfort that could have affected this game, the Phoenix Mercury were able to execute their gameplan and survive the sudden-death first round of the WNBA Playoffs, beating the Seattle Storm 79-69.

In a “home game” a city over from their regular arena, with a starting lineup less than a dozen games old, after an up-and-down season, the Mercury were able to keep their season alive behind another brilliant performance by Brittney Griner.

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The three biggest takeaways from a close one in Phoenix:

1. Brittney Griner needs her shooters

The Mercury fed Griner as much as they have all season in the first half Wednesday night, and while she shot only 5-13, she helped give Phoenix a one-point lead going into halftime. However, as Seattle became smarter about using Breanna Stewart to double-team Griner and the Storm sharpened their secondary rotations, Phoenix missed its shooters badly.

Part of the problem was the absence of Diana Taurasi, who picked up her third foul early in the second quarter and sat the rest of the half. Without her, Phoenix was forced to rely on Yvonne Turner and Danielle Robinson for heavier minutes. At times, the mix-matched lineups cluttered the floor around Griner’s constant post-ups. Phoenix shot 39 percent from the field in the first half.

Mercury Coach Sandy Brondello was able to play her best shooters more often in the second half (with Taurasi out of foul trouble), and Griner was more effective. She was 3-8 in the period, but controlled the pain while not worrying so much about the threat of a double-team.

Griner said– in typically humble fashion– that her outstanding first half was just a matter of “getting D some rest,” in reference to Taurasi’s foul trouble. But the WNBA’s leading scorer played the full 40 minutes tonight (“I’m young!” she remarked), and showed why she makes the Mercury dangerous.

2. Sue Bird and Seattle unable to control the tempo

When the game began, it looked as if Seattle’s gameplan centered around a lot of pick-and-roll with Sue Bird, which is not a bad idea. But after Crystal Langhorne got into foul trouble and the Storm missed a few open shots, Bird and her team were forced to counter.

Seattle Coach Gary Kloppenburg, who has preached ball movement since taking over in August, played an all-bench lineup for much of the second quarter, but Phoenix’s inconsistency (six turnovers in the first half) allowed Seattle to stay close. Bird took back control in the second half.

She led a 6-0 run as the third quarter wound down, shredding into the paint and making the Mercury defense contract, but again Phoenix responded. When Leilani Mitchell hit a three to end the third quarter, Bird’s efforts had amounted to very little on the scoreboard.

Unfortunately, as Kloppenburg said postgame, “when you shoot 35 percent, it’s hard to win a game.” I would add that when a team turns the ball over 12 times on mostly simple plays, it’s difficult to pinpoint that on one player, even one as dynamic as Bird. She did all she could as a table-setter on Wednesday night, but it wasn’t enough to make up for other inconsistencies by Seattle.

3. Yvonne Turner fills in the cracks

The rookie shot only 41 percent from the field this season, but earned a spot in the starting lineup in the final month of the regular season. All week, the Mercury talked about how this particular starting lineup– with Yvonne Turner in the spot Stephanie Talbot and Mo Currie traded in and out of for most of the season– could be so effective moving as a unit and sharing the ball. As we see it more and more, it’s clear that Turner is it’s explosive catalyst.

She moves off-ball as well as anyone, cutting and screening and flaring into slick baskets. When the Mercury play through Griner, their half-court offense can feel lethargic. When Turner is on the court, that’s not the case.

Diana Taurasi said after the game that the Mercury “have the confidence in each other that whoever’s on the court is going to get the job done,” and Turner is perhaps the best example of how the team has proven her right this year.

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Phoenix was able to control the tempo of the game tonight for two reasons: the team rebounded well and its guards pushed the ball. Turner was successful getting into the teeth of the defense before it was set and allowing Phoenix to run its offense against scrambled Storm coverage. She made two back-breaking threes in the first half and was the only other Mercury player able to score for large portions of this game, finishing with 15 points.

The Mercury will now go away to play the Connecticut on Sunday at 3:00 p.m. ET.

This post has been edited to include quotes from players and coaches given after the game, and to correct Sunday’s game time.