And y’all thought Game 1 of the WNBA semifinals between the Seattle Storm and the Phoenix Mercury was crazy.
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Game 2 had a similar feeling to Game 1, with the Storm building a large lead (19 on Tuesday after 19 on Sunday) and the Mercury furiously mounting a fourth quarter comeback. But this time, Diana Taurasi hit a wild corner 3-pointer to send the game to overtime.
Once there, the Mercury struck quickly and took the early lead, but the Storm held Phoenix scoreless over the final 2:30 and got some big points from Sue Bird to take a 91-87 win and move Seattle one win away from the WNBA Finals.
There’s no less than 45 things to talk about after this one, but we’ll start with the most important play.
Bird finds open lane to put Storm on top
Considering all that went into the play being possible, Sue Bird’s driving layup with 1:03 left in overtime the play that gave the Storm the lead back for good deserves layers of analysis. First, the video:
The play commences at the top of the key with 1:10 to go, as Breanna Stewart comes up to set a screen for Bird with the Storm down 87-86. Bird’s momentary hesitation for a moment before using the screen is essential here, as it allows Natasha Howard to clear out of the lane and take Mercury center Angel Robinson with her.
When Bird uses the screen, Stewart gets a bit of a clip on Briann January, causing the guard to stumble. But Camille Little, who was guarding Stewart and had been phenomenal on defense for Phoenix, just flashes at Bird but retreats to take away the kick-back pass to Stewart. The result is a shockingly open layup for Bird.
If you weren’t watching, the question that you must be screaming right now: “Where is Brittney Griner?” Phoenix’s star center fouled out with 3:53 left in overtime when she stuck her arm out and clipped a cutting Jewell Lloyd. If there was ever a moment Phoenix missed her presence, it was right then.
But as if that wasn’t enough the Storm also forced two jump balls on the offensive glass in the final seconds of the game. Both balls were ones that Griner probably gets if she’s on the floor. The impact of her absence in the last minute probably can’t be overstated.
Taurasi adds to lengthy highlight reel
The only reason that overtime was even possible, though? Well, who else for Phoenix but Diana Taurasi?
Believe it or not, Taurasi was really scuffling through the first three quarters, scoring just 11 points on 4-of-10 shooting, 0-for-five from three. But she ended the fourth quarter with 14 points in the period alone— two more on her own than the Storm had in the quarter — to help the Mercury force overtime.
Phoenix ran the same play on back-to-back out-of-bounds plays from the right sideline, throwing a cross-court pass to Griner and having Taurasi come from the top of the key to catch a pass from her. With just under 30 seconds left, she got a screen from Little and drained a catch-and-shoot 3-pointer from the left wing over her defender Alysha Clark.
Her close friend Bird missed a 3-pointer on the other end and the Mercury corralled the rebound, advancing the ball off the timeout. This time, Taurasi got the pass at the wing without a screen and dribbled toward the left corner, where she pulled up over both Clark and a crashing Bird and drained a fadeaway 3-pointer to tie the game.
Despite her early struggles, Taurasi ended the night with 28 points on 9-of-19 shooting, 4-of-9 from behind the arc and 6-of-8 from the free throw line, as well as adding five assists and aa team-high eight rebounds. She’s certainly not to blame for the loss on Tuesday night.
Excellent 2nd/3rd, Abysmal 4th again for Seattle
In back-to-back games, the Storm have built up big leads thanks to stellar play in the second and third quarters, only to nearly give it all away with some dreadful showings in the fourth.
After nearly blowing a 16-point lead on Sunday, Seattle outscored Phoenix 27-14 in the second quarter to take a 12-point lead into halftime, then went on a 16-9 run in the first five minutes of the third quarter to lead by 19, 60-41.
For the last 15 minutes of regulation? Mercury 38, Storm 19. Both times, Phoenix cranked up the defensive pressure and intensity, but Seattle has also seemed tired — an oddity, given both teams’ schedule since the playoffs began.
Even with emerging with the victory in both games, the Storm has turned back-to-back games from “feeling like they were going to cruise to a 20+-point win in the middle of the third quarter” to “amazed they somehow held on to the win despite themselves.” It’s the playoffs, so winning is truly all that matters, but it can’t be leaving a great feeling around Seattle.
Phoenix’s frozen 3-pointers suddenly turn supernova
As if there wasn’t enough strangeness in this game, perhaps the biggest reason Phoenix struggled so heavily offensively was that they couldn’t make anything from deep.
The Mercury nearly went through all of regulation without a make from deep, starting the evening 0-for-14 from 3-point range across more than 38 minutes.
But Taurasi drilled a 3-pointer with 1:36 left to cut the Storm lead down to six before making the aforementioned two in the final 30 seconds. Then, on the opening possession of overtime, DeWanna Bonner drilled one off a Taurasi assist to quickly give Phoenix the lead, and Taurasi made the next attempt from deep with 3:21 left to push the lead up to four.
It was the last attempt from deep on the night for the Mercury, meaning Phoenix missed 14 attempts in more than 38 minutes, then proceeded to go 5-for-5 in a 3-minute, 15-second span. Basketball’s such a funny, peculiar sport.