On Sunday in Game 1 of the WNBA Semi-Finals, the Seattle Storm faced off against a very tough Phoenix Mercury team. In that game, Seattle got up big in the 2nd half by as many as 16 points, but that lead didn’t last. With about 1:30 left to play in Game 1, Phoenix had cut Seattle’s double-digit lead to just two points 89-87. Jewell Loyd hit a clutch shot to put Seattle up 91-87 and secured the Game 1 victory.
Fast-forward two days later to Tuesday night in Seattle and we ended up with nearly the exact same outcome, as Seattle held on to win Game 2, 91-87 (albeit this time in Overtime). Where Game 1 was much more evenly matched throughout the entire game, Seattle was far more dominant in Game 2, especially in the 2nd and 3rd quarters where they outscored Phoenix by a combined 17 points to take a 16 point lead into the 4th and final frame of action. And unfortunately, just like in Game 1, Seattle completely unraveled in the 4th quarter. Seattle’s offense started pressing the action and taking too long to get into the flow of things and ultimately ended up taking bad shot after bad shot or giving away costly turnovers.
Their defense was almost as bad. After playing excellent defense on the Mercury’s Big 3 for much of the game, Phoenix exploded for 28 points in the fourth quarter. To me, it looked like they stopped sending double-teams to guard Brittney Griner and it allowed her to get deep post position for easy baskets. With 4:11 left in the game, Phoenix managed to cut Seattle’s 19 point lead to just 11 (73-62) after a Brittney Griner reverse layup. From that point forward, the Mercury would outscore Seattle 17-6 in the final four minutes to send the game into overtime. Diana Taurasi went into GOAT mode and scored 11 points in the final two minutes of the game. No points more impressive than the off-balanced corner 3-pointer over two Storm defenders. When a player does that, you can’t help but just sit in awe for a moment at the incredible skill and talent.
Down 3 with 7.3 seconds left. Enter, Diana Taurasi. pic.twitter.com/zxwR5hNgXm— espnW (@espnW) August 29, 2018
I mean seriously, Taurasi was incredible. The Storm knew she was going to take these shots, they put their best defender on her and sometimes two defenders and she still knocked them all down. Watch these clips. I don’t understand how there are some people that love the sport of basketball but don’t enjoy the WNBA. A trip to the WNBA Finals are on the line and the best shooter unlocks a 4th dimension and becomes unstoppable. That is the beauty of sports. Seriously, just watch these shots again.
Phoenix was down by 17 in the 4th, then the took over to force OT. pic.twitter.com/UwTO4vWR87— espnW (@espnW) August 29, 2018
Phoenix forced OT after Breanna Stewart missed a fade-away shot with just a couple seconds left in the game. Phoenix begins the overtime period still red-hot with both DeWanna Bonner and Diana Taurasi hitting impressive back-to-back 3-pointers, giving the Mercury an 85-81 lead. It was Phoenix’s largest lead of the game since early in the first quarter. The Storm caught a break when 6’9” Brittney Griner picked up her 6th personal foul with 3:53 left in overtime.
With Griner fouled out, Jewell Loyd went to work and begin attacking the basket with more frequency. Loyd was able to draw fouls late in the OT period and was able to knock down three of four FT from the foul line to cut the Mercury’s lead to 87-86 with 1:31 left to play. Sue Bird used her well-rested legs to zoom past the Mercury’s defenders for an easy layup to put Seattle up for good 88-87.
A couple of loose ball scrambles resulted into two jump balls with less than 10 seconds to play in the OT. Ultimately, Seattle got four more free throws. Loyd knocked down one of two, and Sue Bird calmly knocked down both of her free throws to clinch the game for Seattle, putting the Storm up 91-87 with two seconds left to play. Taurasi took an errant three-point attempt and tried to flop her way into some free throws, but the refs smartly didn’t call anything, the shot missed, and that was the game.
With the win, Seattle is up 2-0 in the series and can clinch a trip to the WNBA Finals if they win either Game 3 or Game 4 in Phoenix on Friday or Sunday (If necessary) this week.
Seattle had five players score in double-figures led by MVP Breanna Stewart who had a team-high 27 points. Sue Bird had a strong offensive game scoring 19 points and six assists. Jewell Loyd had 13 points, including six in the overtime when the team needed her the most. Natasha Howard and Jordin Canada finished with 10 and 12 points to round out the five.
For Phoenix it was all about their Big 3. And while Taurasi and Bonner didn’t get going until the 4th quarter, Griner was dominant throughout. All three players finished with more than 20 points, as Taurasi led the way with 28 points and 8 assists, Bonner had 21 points, 9 rebounds, and Brittney Griner had 23 point and 10 rebounds in the loss. The Mercury’s remaining seven players combined for just 15 points.
In Game 1 on Sunday, the Storm bench only scored four points, whereas Phoenix’s bench and role players contributed 22 points outside of the Mercury’s Big 3. Fortunately, Seattle’s Core Four put up 81 of their 91 points in the victory. But on Tuesday night, things were a bit different.
Rookie Jordin Canada had by far her best game as a pro. She was a huge spark off the bench in the first half, scoring 10 points on a perfect 4-4 shooting including two baskets from beyond the 3-point arc. Canada would finish the game shooting a perfect 5-5 and scoring 12 points. She also had three assists and just one turnover.
Crystal Langhorne also made big contributions to the Storm in Tuesday night’s game. She scored 6 points and most impressively, pulled down 10 rebounds including 3 offensive boards and really helped Seattle make their run in those 2nd and 3rd quarters.
In total, the bench scored 20 points in Game 2, a huge improvement over what they showed in Game 1.
The Atlanta Dream evened up their Best of 5 semi-finals playoff series (1-1) with the Washington Mystics, winning Game 2 - 78 to 75. And that may not be the worst news for the Washington Mystics as superstar player Elena Delle Donne went down with a nasty looking leg injury late in the 4th quarter. Delle Donne was down for several minutes and was eventually helped off the court by her teammates. She is hopeful to play in Game 3, but the initial video did not look good. She will likely get an MRI before Friday’s Game 3 and that could determine whether she can play or if she’s out for the rest of the season.
The WNBA has had the most competitive season I have ever witnessed in pro sports. The regular season was extremely exciting and hotly contested and only one or two games separated the league’s very best from the teams that barely made the playoffs. Now that we are down to the Final Four, these semi-finals have been extremely hard fought. Seattle has won both of their games by just four points each. Whereas, Washington and Atlanta have each beat the other once by just three points. This season has been incredible!