Series Preview: Seattle Storm (1) vs. Phoenix Mercury (2)

Sep 8 2010 1:23AM
Which team will win the Conference Finals matchup between Seattle and Phoenix?
Which team will win the Conference Finals matchup between Seattle and Phoenix?
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For five straight seasons the Seattle Storm (28-6) has fallen short in the playoffs, never advancing past the first round since last claiming a championship in 2004. That all changed in this season’s Western Conference Semifinals, as the Storm swept the Los Angeles Sparks to advance to a second-round meeting with the Phoenix Mercury.

Regular season matchups against the Mercury (15-19) certainly swayed in favor of the Storm, as Seattle went on to sweep the five-game series, winning three on the road at US Airways Center in Phoenix.

Leading MVP candidate Lauren Jackson posted her best single-game outing of the season against the Mercury back on July 27th, as she dropped 33 points and hauled in 11 rebounds to help the Storm secure a 91-85 victory. Jackson played limited minutes against the Mercury on August 20th as a part of Coach Agler’s interest in resting starters, but in the four games prior to that second-to-last game of the season Jackson averaged 26.25 points per contest and snagged an average of 10.75 rebounds.

Dominating as Jackson has been this season, she’s had plenty of help around her as well. Swin Cash finished second on the team in points per game with 13.8, while Sue Bird finished third in scoring with an average of 11.1 and second in the league with 5.8 assists per game.

Gm 1: at Seattle, Thur., 9/2 at 10 p.m. ET, NBA TV
Gm 2: at Phoenix, Sun., 9/5, 3 p.m. ET, ABC
Gm 3*: at Seattle, Weds., 9/8, 10 p.m. ET, NBA TV
Defensively, the Storm ranked second overall in the league in points allowed per game with an average of 73.9, behind only the Washington Mystics’ slightly lower total of 73.3. Phoenix’s high-flying offense ranked first overall during the regular season with 93.9 points per game. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the Mercury’s defense finished 12th overall, allowing an average of 93.8 points per.

Heading into the series against the Mercury, the offensive and defensive highlights that powered Seattle through the regular season have not been lost in the postseason. Over the two games against the Sparks, Jackson averaged 20.5 points and 9 rebounds per, Cash, 18 points and 5 rebounds, and Bird finished with an average of 12 points and 8 assists. The Storm also managed to hold Los Angeles to just 66 points per outing.

While the Storm may find itself breaking a bad streak of postseason appearances, a second-round appearance is nothing out of the ordinary for the Mercury. After completing the sweep over the Silver Stars Saturday afternoon, the Mercury officially advanced to the Western Conference Finals for the third time in four years. The previous two in 2007 and 2009 ended with a fine piece of hardware for the trophy room.

It’s already been said that Phoenix didn’t fair too well against the Storm during the regular season, but that’s not to say individual performances are anything to overlook, specifically that of reigning MVP Diana Taurasi. DT got off to a slow start against Seattle, averaging just 12 points and 2.5 rebounds per outing over the first two games. However, she certainly hit the accelerator over the next two, averaging 35.5 points and 4.5 rebounds per game for a final regular season line of 23.75 points and 3.5 rebounds against the Storm. During that span, Taurasi dropped a season-best 44 points in the July 14th outing that resulted in a 111-107 triple-overtime loss for the Mercury. She was a healthy scratch for the final meeting of the season in a game that carried zero implications on altering Phoenix's playoff chances.

Similar to Jackson, Taurasi has plenty of personnel to work with, armed and ready to contribute night in and night out. 2010 newcomer Candice Dupree finished third on the team with 15.7 points per game and averaged a team-high 7.6 rebounds per. Penny Taylor finished with just a slightly higher average than Dupree, rounding out the regular season with 15.9 points per game. Taurasi led Mercury scorers with 22.6.

After only two games, it’s safe to say Dupree’s first postseason has brought with it the sort of performance the Mercury is more than happy to see. In Game One against the Sparks, Dupree scored 32 points and pulled down 8 rebounds en route to a 106-93 Phoenix win. She quickly followed that up with another double-figure outing in Game Two, dropping 19 points and snatching 11 boards. Dupree stands out as the newest piece to the Mercury’s offensive puzzle, but she’s certainly shown she fits in just fine.

Taurasi’s role in Game One against the Sparks was that of a serviceable set-up artist. She tallied 10 assists in that postseason opener and added 14 points on 6-of-12 shooting just for good measure. She later shot an impressive 9-of-13 for 23 points to close out the two-game sweep of the Sparks.

Each team has plenty to prove in what is bound to be an exciting best-of-three series. The numbers alone suggest that both teams are fully stocked and prepared to make a run, pitting last year's MVP against this year's top candidate and former UConn teammates Taurasi and Bird against one another for just the second time and first since 2007. The Storm’s commanding presence throughout the regular season is one they will look to maintain, particularly on home court where they remain undefeated (17-0 regular season, 1-0 postseason). All season long teams were gunning for the Mercury, a championship team dead set on returning to the postseason for a chance to repeat. Regular season meetings aside, it’s now a clean slate for both teams to work with.

Who’s it going to be?

2010 Regular Season: Seattle 5, Phoenix 0
Some fast facts about the first-round matchup:
  • This is the first time Seattle has advanced to the second round of the playoffs since 2004, when they won a championship
  • Phoenix has advanced to the Western Conference Finals three times in the last four years.
  • Seattle posted a perfect 17-0 record at home this season and remain perfect (1-0) in the postseason.
  • Phoenix's offense ranked first in the league in points per game (93.9) and last in points allowed (93.8)
  • Seattle's offense ranked third overall in points per game (81.3) and second overall in points allowed (73.9)
Saturday, May 22, US Airways Center, Phoenix, AZ: Storm 95, Mercury 89 | Box score
Seattle Leaders: Lauren Jackson (25 pts., 8 reb.), Swin Cash (18 pts., 6 reb.)
Phoenix Leaders: DeWanna Bonner (24 pts., 12 reb.), Temeka Johnson (15 pts., 5 ast)

Sunday June 6 Key Arena, Seattle, WA: Storm 97, Mercury 74 | Box score
Seattle Leaders: Lauren Jackson (16 pts., 6 reb.), Sue Bird (12 pts., 11 ast)
Phoenix Leaders: DeWanna Bonner (12 pts., 3 reb.), Diana Taurasi (11 pts., 1 reb.)

Wednesday July 14, US Airways Center, Phoenix, AZ: Storm 111, Mercury 107 | Box score
Seattle Leaders: Lauren Jackson (31 pts., 18 reb.), Tanisha Wright (20 pts., 5 reb.)
Phoenix Leaders: Diana Taurasi (44 pts., 5 reb., 5 ast.), Candice Dupree (18 pts., 14 reb.)

Tuesday, July 27, Key Arena, Seattle, WA: Storm 91, Mercury 85 | Box score
Seattle Leaders: Lauren Jackson (33 pts., 11 reb.), Sue Bird (16 pts., 7 ast.)
Phoenix Leaders: Diana Taurasi (27 pts., 6 ast.), DeWanna Bonner (19 pts., 5 reb.)

Friday, August 20, US Airways Center, Phoenix, AZ: Storm 78, Mercury 73 | Box score
Seattle Leaders: Swin Cash (13 pts., 2 reb.), Jana Vesela (12 pts., 3 reb.)
Phoenix Leaders: Kara Braxton (15 pts., 5 reb.), Taylor Lilley (14 pts., 2 reb.)

See how the teams match up position by position

Sue Bird, G, Storm
11.1 PPG, 2.7 RPG, 5.8 APG
Note: Finished second in the league in assists.
Temeka Johnson, G, Mercury
9.2 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 4.7 SPG
Note: Started every game for the second straight season.
Tanisha Wright, G, Storm
9.2 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 4.5 APG
Note: Averaged a career-best in assists.
Diana Taurasi, G, Mercury
22.6 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 4.7 APG
Note: Claimed her fourth scoring title.
Swin Cash, F, Storm
13.8 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 2.0 APG
Note: Played in all 34 games for the first time since 2006.
Candice Dupree, F, Mercury
15.7 PPG, 7.6 RPG, 1.3 APG
Note: Playing in her first ever postseason.
Camille Little, F, Storm
10.1 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 1.4 APG
Note: Started all 34 games for the second straight season.
Penny Taylor, F, Mercury
15.9 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 5.0 APG
Note: Finished fifth in the league in assists.
Lauren Jackson, C, Storm
20.5 PPG, 8.3 RPG, 1.19 BPG
Note: Playing in her first postseason since 2007.
Tangela Smith, C, Mercury
9.2 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 0.85 BPG
Note: Set the WNBA record for most career games played.