Lauren Jackson and Sue Bird celebrate the Storm's victory. Barry Gossage/NBAE/Getty Images
Storm's Biggest Comeback Yet Wins Western Conference
Kevin Pelton, stormbasketball.com | Sept. 5, 2010
PHOENIX - There was every opportunity for the Seattle Storm to decide Sunday wasn't its day. Playing in front of a hostile crowd at the US Airways Center against the defending WNBA champions, the Storm went down by as many as 19 points. Even after the Storm rallied to make it a game, 2009 league MVP Diana Taurasi hit an improbable off-balance three-pointer to push the Phoenix Mercury's lead to 12 with 3:22 to play.
Yet the Storm always maintained its belief it would win the game. 13 fourth-quarter comebacks during the regular season have given the team an unshakable confidence in its ability to win no matter how dire the situation. Sunday proved the ultimate triumph of that attitude.
The Storm silenced a stunned group of Mercury fans by ripping off the game's final 15 points to win 91-88, holding the league's most potent offense scoreless the rest of the way and scoring on six of the game's last possessions. The run was capped by the Storm's go-to fourth-quarter shot maker, Sue Bird. With 2.8 seconds left on the clock, Bird drilled a three-pointer to untie the game and give the Storm its first lead of the entire second half.
When Taurasi missed a desperation hoist at the other end, the Storm had completed the comeback and swept Phoenix out of the playoffs two games to none, advancing to the WNBA Finals for the second time in franchise history.
"I think the fact that we've done it so many times this season, come from behind, we always believed," said Bird. "Of course there are times when you're frustrated or you're tired or they're playing so well you feel like you can't do anything right. We have those moments as a team. But at different times, different people spoke up and really brought us back together.
"With five minutes left when we were down 10 going to the free throw line with a chance to make it eight, in that moment we talked about how it was just a three- or four-possession game. That's nothing. Five minutes? That's really nothing."
While the Storm withstood an energetic start by the Mercury and claimed the lead early in the second quarter on the strength of an 11-2 run, the second and third quarters belonged to the host team. Phoenix put together lengthy runs in both periods, including a 12-2 burst just after halftime that produced the Mercury's biggest lead. With Lauren Jackson in foul trouble and Taurasi bouncing back as expected from her rough Game 1, the Storm looked dead in the water.
The comeback began inauspiciously. The Storm went to its bench, and a lineup with reserves Svetlana Abrosimova, Jana Veselá and Le'coe Willingham helped chip away at the deficit. By the end of the third quarter, it was a more manageable 10-point difference. But the Storm was unable to get much closer before the final three and a half minutes, when everything at last started clicking.
All-Star forward Swin Cash deserves much of the credit for keeping the Storm in the game. Cash's energy and aggressiveness were contagious, and she led the team with 23 points and eight rebounds.
"Swin was the one who was probably most animated down the stretch," said Storm Head Coach Brian Agler. "She was the one who was energized in the huddle and she was energized with her play. She got to the free throw line and hit a big three. She also has the ability to hit big shots and she did. All those things count up, and they cut the lead back."
It was Cash who tied the game by working free for a layup with 36.2 seconds left. The Storm then got a stop at the other end, where Temeka Johnson was unable to connect on a drive against Bird. The Storm's point guard secured the rebound and immediately called timeout with 23.7 seconds showing on the clock. The Storm had the opportunity to nearly run the clock down.
"We knew what we were going to run," explained Agler, "because we had it diagrammed already in case we had a breakout or did not want to use a timeout."
The Storm called for Tanisha Wright to hold the basketball before driving off of a high pick-and-roll. Meanwhile, Jackson screened for Bird. Two defenders followed the league's MVP to the hoop, giving Bird "just enough time" to fire off the go-ahead attempt. Under the basket for a possible offensive rebound, Jackson had the best view of the shot..
"All I remember is it went straight in," she said. "Didn't even touch the basket."
"In all honesty, not surprised," Agler said of his reaction on the sidelines. "We've seen her do it many a time. Sue, she's hit multiple big shots. She has the ability to focus in these types of situations."
Bird's shot kept the team unbeaten in the 2010 postseason, and avoided the scary prospect of a deciding Game 3 back in Seattle on Wednesday.
"I know I didn't want to see Phoenix in Game 3," said Bird. "That would have been very, very hard - even with home court. The best part about the shot and winning this game is the series is over and we have a week to prepare and to rest."
Instead, the Storm turns its attention to the WNBA Finals, which will open next Sunday, Sept. 12 at KeyArena (12:00 p.m., ABC, 1150 AM KKNW, ). The Storm's opponent has yet to be decided, and the team actually finished off the Western Conference Finals before the Eastern Conference Finals tipped off. Later Sunday, Atlanta won Game 1 in New York by an 81-75 final.
No matter which opponent the Storm ultimately faces, the team will bring the confidence of a 32-6 record thus far this season and a demonstrated ability to win in the face of remarkable adversity that was only reinforced on Sunday.
"There were times during the game where we were just so frustrated," said Jackson, "but that's the great thing about our team; we're very resilient. We were able to step up when it counted. We've been down in the final quarter and worked our way back into the game. That's just a confidence we have in each other."