Mercury ride stormy win into West finals

By Al Bravo,
Aug. 27, 2007

You can’t say the Phoenix Mercury don’t make it exciting. On Sunday they blew a 22-point lead vs. the Seattle Storm and still found a way to reach the WNBA Western Conference finals.

“We’re always an interesting team,” Mercury coach Paul Westhead said. “We never let you get in the parking lot and let you get home early. On the one hand, I have to give credit to Seattle — they never gave up and they kept at us, cutting up our zone a little bit.”

Luckily, Phoenix escaped with a 95-89 win in front of 7,428 fans at US Airways Center and advanced to the best-of-three conference finals beginning Thursday.

They will again start on the road before coming back for a potential Saturday-Sunday back-to-back against the winner of tonight’s Sacramento-San Antonio game.

“A day off right now (is great),” Westhead said. “It looks like a dicey next round; it looks like three games in four days.”

He added, “Well, we were 4-0 against Sacramento and 3-1 against San Antonio though San Antonio beat us here. But we weren’t the same team then that we are now.”

On Sunday, the first playoff series win since 1998 was in doubt after Seattle rallied from a 60-38 deficit with 8:21 left in the third quarter.

“We had been scratching and clawing throughout the fourth quarter, coming back from 22 down,” Seattle coach Anne Donovan said. “I thought we did a great job. At one point, we were just shut off emotions that were carrying us. We were bothered by the officials, we were bothered that we weren’t getting stops.”

Phoenix led by 13 going into the fourth quarter but Seattle chipped away and tied it at 85 with 2:50 remaining.

Then, Diana Taurasi hit a 3-pointer.

“That’s a play we run a lot,” Taurasi said. “Cappie (Pondexter) and I, it goes either way, there are different variations to it. We saw something the whole game that they were switching it so if the (defensive player) doesn’t get out on time, the player is open.”

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It wasn’t exactly the first option.

“It was the end of the play,” Westhead said. “We tried to go inside to Penny Taylor, and it didn’t work out so it got kicked back to her. D (Taurasi), the tenacious opportunist that she is, she let it fly. Nothing but net.”

Phoenix ended up outscoring Seattle 10-6 down the stretch to secure the win and earn three nights off.

“We were just in the locker room saying that the first game is important,” Taurasi said. “If you can get that first game on the road then you have a pretty good chance of coming home and closing it out.”

The Mercury made 7 of 8 free throws while Seattle missed opportunities.

Pondexter scored 25 points and Taurasi added 20 on a night when not all the stars came out well.

Taurasi picked up two fouls in the first 2:11 of the game, but Kelly Miller hit her first three 3-pointers to help pick up the slack and Phoenix was coasting — leading by 13 at the break.

Penny Taylor added 18 points, five rebounds and five assists for the Mercury, who had not been in the playoffs since 2000.

“We never felt like we had a monkey on our back,” Taurasi said. “I think everything happens for a reason. People were always, ‘Oh, you never make the playoffs,’ but we were confident that everything is a gradual process.”

Miller added 16 points and six rebounds for the Mercury, who shot just 40.3 percent (27 of 67) from the field.

Sue Bird scored 21 points and had six assists for the fourth-seeded Storm.

COPYRIGHT 2007, EAST VALLEY TRIBUNE. Used with permission.