Live from Press Row - Storm vs. Phoenix
Storm Tops Mercury, Claims Home Court
Final: Storm 85, Phoenix 70
The Storm made all the right plays to hold on to the lead and win this game by a deceptively comfortable margin. We now know that these teams will play right here at 7 p.m. on Thursday night in the opener of their Western Conference Semifinals series. If the playoffs are anything like tonight, it should be an absolutely amazing series. You won't want to miss a minute of action. Tickets for Game 1 are on sale now - join us at the Key!
As for tonight's game, Katie Smith was absolutely incredible, throwing it back to her days as the league's leading scorer. She scored a season-high 26 points and knocked down five three-pointers, giving the Storm a lift on a night where other players had tough shooting nights. Tanisha Wright was also terrific for the Storm, scoring 18 points on 7-of-9 shooting. Sue Bird was quiet in the first half, but scored 13 points after halftime to finish the night with 15 and six assists. And Swin Cash and Camille Little combined to pull down 25 rebounds.
The Storm's defense on Diana Taurasi after halftime was also very impressive. After her record-tying first half, Taurasi made just one of her six shot attempts in the second half and finished with 36 points. Phoenix's total of 70 points tied the Mercury's season low. Just another night at the office for the Storm's impressive defense.
Fourth Quarter: Storm 78, Phoenix 68
Ordinarily, a 10-point lead with possession at the 1:59 mark would feel pretty comfortable. But Diana Taurasi is anything but ordinary, and while the Storm has held Taurasi in check since halftime - she's made just one field goal, scoring the rest of her eight second-half points at the free throw line - she's liable to get going at any moment. For the Storm, it's all about executing on the offensive end and taking care of the basketball. Tonight has been a strong effort in that regard, as the Storm has just 12 turnovers.
The crowd will also help the Storm hold on. Fans have been terrific all night. I love having a 6-4 Jamaican cheerleader making as much noise as anyone. (That's Simone Edwards, who spent the timeout throwing T-shirts to fans, in case that was unclear.)
Second Unit Extends the Lead
Fourth Quarter: Storm 67, Phoenix 58
We just had a really interesting stretch of basketball. Sue Bird went to the scorer's table at about the eight-minute mark and was quickly joined by teammate Lauren Jackson and Phoenix's Diana Taurasi and Candice Dupree as both teams went to their star players. But they couldn't get in the game for about two minutes because there were no stoppages of play. As it turned out, the Storm benefited from the stretch. Tanisha Wright banked in an "excuse me" three-pointer and the Storm got another score to push the lead to nine points now that we have something approximating both teams' starting lineups. With six minutes to play, the Storm just needs to maintain the advantage by containing the Mercury defensively and relying on this loud home crowd.
The Storm Takes the Lead to the Fourth
End Third Quarter: Storm 58, Phoenix 56
Since the Storm's 10-0 run, the teams have mostly traded buckets, leaving us with a two-point game headed to the final period. Katie Smith has really been a lifesaver for the Storm on a night where Lauren Jackson is scoreless and Camille Little has shot just 3-of-14 from the field. Smith has 26 points - 10 more than any other game this season - and has knocked down five three-pointers. Smith is just two points away from becoming the third player in WNBA history to reach 6,000 for her career.
During the quarter break, we saw the return of a Storm favorite - the Stormy Awards! Voting for your favorite Storm Movie Magic involving a player or Coach Agler is open now on StormBasketball.com. Watch all the candidates and cast your vote for your favorite!
Katie Leads the Comeback
Third Quarter: Storm 47, Phoenix 46
Looks like Tanisha Wright's foul trouble was a blessing in disguise for the Storm. As well as she's played tonight, Katie Smith has been unbelievable. She's knocked down a pair of three-pointers to lead a 10-0 Storm run that has given the team back the lead. We're only midway through the third quarter, but already fans are on their feet. This feels a lot like the Storm's big second-half comeback against the Mercury last year that clinched the Western Conference in terms of the energy from the crowd.
Speaking of the crowd, we have a pair of special guests. Storm legend Simone Edwards is back in the house tonight. An inaugural member of the Storm, Edwards played six seasons in Seattle, winning the 2004 WNBA championship. Also here tonight is NBA legend Bill Russell, one of the great winners in professional sports history. Russell is sitting courtside with members of Force 10 Hoops.
Still No Momentum for Storm
Third Quarter: Phoenix 46, Storm 37
It's been a dismal start to the second half for the Storm. Since Tanisha Wright scored to open the half, Phoenix has the last five points. As troubling is that Wright - one of just two Storm players who have scored more than four points - has picked up two quick fouls trying to defend Diana Taurasi, giving her four for the evening.
After an extended chat with the team at halftime, Brian Agler has now called a quick timeout to try to get things going. The strategic issues remain the same. The Storm is creating mismatches against smaller defenders in the paint, but has been unable to convert those opportunities into points.
Storm Shell-Shocked at the Half
Halftime: Phoenix 41, Storm 35
As late as the 5:26 mark of the second quarter, the Storm held a five-point lead. Then Diana Taurasi happened. Over a span of less than four minutes, Taurasi made three three-pointers and scored 12 points. The Storm did not seem the same after the onslaught, even when Taurasi went to the bench with three personal fouls. Seattle was scoreless over the last 3:08, allowing Phoenix to build a six-point advantage.
Taurasi was just unreal. She tied the league record for three-pointers in a half, which she already shared with Sue Bird, and scored 20 points in the second quarter - two shy of her own league record. Yet the Storm was still solid overall defensively. None of the other Mercury players had more than four points. Really, the Storm's issue was at the offensive end of the floor, where only two players scored effectively. Katie Smith scored 15 points and Tanisha Wright had nine. The rest of the team shot 5-of-23 from the field.
In particular, the Storm needs to get the frontcourt going. Lauren Jackson was scoreless in 12 minutes, missing all four of her shot attempts. Camille Little, who has torched the Mercury all season (shooting somewhere around 65 percent), made just one of her six shot attempts. As a team, the Storm was 8-of-20 in the paint. Improve that and the Storm still has an excellent chance to win this game.
Fouls Only Way to Stop Taurasi
Second Quarter: Phoenix 38, Storm 35
Don't touch Diana Taurasi right now, because you will come away with a burn. That's how hot the 2009 WNBA MVP has been tonight. Taurasi has knocked down six three-pointers, tying the WNBA record for a half previously set by Becky Hammon against the Mercury in 2007. Taurasi has 27 points on 9-of-13 shooting - more than two-thirds of her team's total. She's well over halfway to the league record of 47 points in a game she shares with Lauren Jackson.
However, Taurasi will have to sit due to foul trouble. During a skirmish for a loose ball just before the break, she picked up her third foul while Katie Smith drew a technical because the contact continued after the whistle. That's Taurasi's third foul of the half.
Holding Nothing Back
Second Quarter: Storm 31, Phoenix 25
Even thought we know these two teams will be playing in the playoffs starting in six days, I haven't noticed either team changing its strategy to save something for the playoffs. That's probably to be expected given that there is still something important at stake tonight - home court advantage in that series. There's also this: Neither team has a lot of secrets, since they've already played each other 11 times in the last two seasons.
Instead, it's all about execution and making shots. Right now, Katie Smith and Diana Taurasi are both doing just that. They've combined for 31 points midway through the second quarter. Already, Smith is just a point away from her season high of 16.
Injection of Energy
End First Quarter: Storm 21, Phoenix 15
I'm loving this playoff atmosphere in KeyArena tonight. Not only did #StormCrazies turn out in force tonight, they came ready to cheer and show both teams why they're working so hard to secure home court advantage in the playoffs.
That said, the energy lift provided by the crowd can't compare to what Katie Smith has provided off the bench. Smith has been a bundle of energy at both ends of the court, coming up with a steal and scoring 12 points in just half a quarter of play. Smith has made all four of her shot attempts, including a three-pointer, and has a free throw. Already, she's got her third-highest point total of the season.
There does seem to be something about Phoenix. Smith's season high of 16 points was set down in the Valley of the Sun last month when she started in place of the absent Tanisha Wright.
First Quarter: Storm 10, Phoenix 10
For a Storm-Mercury game, this has been surprisingly defensive so far. The Storm did not get on the scoreboard until nearly three minutes had passed. The teams seems to be heating up, however - particularly Diana Taurasi. Taurasi has three buckets from the perimeter, including a pair of three-pointers to give her eight points. The Storm has answered with triples from reserves Katie Smith and Le'coe Willingham.
So far tonight, no lead has lasted long. The game has been tied at 2, 4, 7 and 10 apiece.
Looks Like No Taylor
The expectation coming into today was that Phoenix All-Star Penny Taylor would make her return to the lineup tonight after missing three of the last four games with muscle spasms in her back. When Corey Gaines said before the game he wasn't sure whether Taylor would play, I thought there might have been an element of secrecy at play. Lo and behold, however, Taylor did not join her teammates on the court for layup lines after testing her back by warming up. She's still in her warmup jacket and apparently will not play.
Certainly, the Mercury will miss Taylor, who is an MVP candidate.
"She's one of the top players in the world," noted Gaines. "When you have on your team as one of the top players in the world, it means something."
While Phoenix has a ready-made replacement in DeWanna Bonner, the two-time defending Sixth Woman Award winner, Taylor's absence does test the Mercury's depth. That will mean more minutes for a familiar face: Rookie post Krystal Thomas, who was drafted by the Storm in the third round and played for the team the first half of the season. Thomas played 22 minutes last night against Tulsa, scoring four points and grabbing four rebounds.
"She's learning, she's improving fast," said Gaines. "We like her."
It's a big night at KeyArena, where the Storm and the Phoenix Mercury will meet with second place in the Western Conference potentially in the balance. These teams already know they will meet in the opening round of the playoffs next week. What's still up in the air is which team will have home court advantage for that series. The Storm can claim it with a win tonight, while a Phoenix victory would give the Mercury the upper hand in the battle. That only adds to one of the league's better - and more entertaining - rivalries, with friends on both sides. We anticipate a terrific matchup, so stay with us all night long for the latest as you follow the broadcasts on KONG 6/16 and 1090 AM locally and Live Access around the world.