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July 27, 2010 at 6:23 PM

Game thread: Phoenix at Seattle

STORM WINS: The Storm have won the West and it’s not even August. Seattle whipped up another classic in defeated the Mercury 91-85 on Tuesday. The win ties the 1980 Sounders for the best start in Seattle pro sports history. The Sounders were 21-2 before losing their third game. And it keeps the Storm in pursuit of Houston’s historic 25-2 start for best in the WNBA. Most of all, it continues to give Seattle confidence it can win multiple ways. Tuesday’s late arrival being the splashiest. Seattle is 10-2 when trailing after three quarters. “They caught us by surprise a little bit, just how fast they are” said Bird, who finished with 16 points, seven rebounds, and five steals. “We know they like to get up and down the court, but all of a sudden we weren’t prepared for it. They really got out in transition and it hurt us in the first half. I don’t know the percentages, but I guarantee you offensive rebounds and transition were the key to them getting that lead.” True. Phoenix outscored Seattle 13-4 on fast break points. But the Storm, with the help of Cash’s five quick boards, cut that to zero in the second half while Seattle scored 11 in transition. The Storm also won the rebounding advantage after the break 24-15. Jackson was unstoppable, finishing with a season-high-tying 33 points and 11 rebounds. But the other Storm starters were equally important to the win, Seattle’s 12 consecutive. Taurasi led her team with 27 points and six assists, but also had five turnovers. Up next is Chicago on Friday.
SAY WHAT?: Phoenix is down 91-85 with 0.4 remaining on the clock and coach Corey Gaines called for a full timeout. The Mercury can score fast, but not that fast. This reminds me of Lin Dunn back in the day. UPDATE: But, considering all the overtime matchups and how Gaines believes these teams will meet to advance to the Finals, I could see how he’d want to practice a live, in-bound and score play. Agler’s with Cash slipping to the basket worked. Gaines’ did not.
PHOENIX CHASING: Braxton is getting her most minutes with her new team (20) and making the most of it, shooting 4 of 12 from the field for eights points and five rebounds. She’s needed due to the loss of Smith. A basket by Bird gave the Storm a 81-78 lead with 2:10 remaining.
SMITH OUT: It was a bogus call since Taurasi pushed her into a driving Wright, but Smith fouled out and Wright made the layin and ensuing FT to pull the Storm ahead 65-64 with 9:27 remaining in the game. It’s the Storm’s first lead since a turnaround jumper by Jackson with 7:54 remaining in the opening quarter.
CLOSER: The Storm went on a 18-3 run to end the third quarter and move within a basket of Phoenix’s lead at the final buzzer. Credit Cash’s five rebounds, she didn’t have any in the first half and scoring from Wright. Seattle has practice coming from behind in the fourth quarter and with the crowd now delirious, it’s not unlikely it could happen Tuesday. The Mercury leads 64-62, getting outscored 24-8 overall in the third. The Mercury was 2 of 22 shooting from the field.
PAYING CASH: Cash is getting Seattle back in the game with three defensive boards and a fast break layin that shrunk the deficit to 61-51 with 3:56 remaining in the third quarter. The confused KeyArena crowd is back in the game, standing on its feet and cheering the effort they didn’t see at all in the first half.
BLASE: Apparently Seattle is saving itself for the second half. How else can you explain the most blase finish to the opening half this season? In the final minute the Storm allowed Johnson to score two buckets — one off a steal and another off an offensive rebound — to take a 56-38 lead into the break. The Storm is shooting 36.8 percent to the Mercury’s 60.5 and getting outrebounded 20-15. Three Phoenix players have already scored in double figures (Taurasi, Johnson, and DeWanna Bonner) while the Storm is making bad decisions and doesn’t look like the team that won 11 consecutive games. The Storm’s 18-point deficit is the largest at the break since trailing Chicago 42-29 in a road loss to the Sky in May.
DEADLINE PASSES: The trade deadline was Monday night and Agler said he only spoke with a few agents, no teams inquiring about his players. He hasn’t thought about it seriously, but Agler did say he has money to cut one of his current players and sign a free agent. Nothing specific, just that the deep reserves should relax. Agler said Australians Abby Bishop and Alison Lacey are full of potential, but there’s no long-term plan for either beyond this season. Seattle is down 45-34 with 2:34 remaining in the second quarter.
MERCURY RISING: As Jackson rested, the Mercury went on a 6-2 run to build a 35-26 lead. Phoenix is defending well and getting the rebounds over Seattle. Jackson checked back in to score on her first touch, but the Mercury still leads 38-29 with 4:47 remaining in the half.
TAURASI HOT: As billed, Taurasi is on-point in July. She’s shooting 5 of 8 from the field for 11 points in the opening quarter to help the Mercury take an early 25-20 lead. The stats are pretty even, except the Storm is shooting 41.2 percent from the field to Phoenix’s 64.7. Jackson is 4 of 5 from the field, doing work in the paint for her eight points.
SUBS IN: Neither team is looking that impressive defensively and Storm coach Brian Agler has gone to his bench with 5:20 remaining in the first quarter, putting Svetlana Abrosimova and Le’coe Willingham in the game. That helped produced a turnover and four points. But Johnson responded with a three-pointer to keep Phoenix ahead 17-10 with 4:06 on the clock.
CZECH TV: Storm F Jana Vesela is getting some global love as her native country’s Czech Television is in Seattle until Friday morning filming a feature about the only player from Czech Republic in the WNBA. Vesela will play for her national team during the World Championships competition in her country. The station interviewed Taurasi and Jackson for a story about that upcoming September event.
Hope you have some popcorn and pink lemonade because Tuesday’s game between Seattle and Phoenix should be another instant classic. The last meeting needed a three-pointer by PG Sue Bird to give the Storm the win in triple overtime.
Only the game was just the start of the Mercury gelling with its revamped roster. And Phoenix added muscle in Kara Braxton, trading away C Nicole Ohlde and a first-round draft pick last week.
“She has championship experience and that’s good for them,” said Storm F Swin Cash, who won a title with Braxton in Detroit. “Kara’s a big body. She’s skilled down low, whenever she can get position and she’s playing with Diana, who by far is one of the best teammates I’ve ever had. Diana knows how to give her teammates confidence and put them in positions to be effective.
“Phoenix is on a roll right now and for us, it’s about executing our game plan.”
As usual, it’s going to be about defense. Both teams are potent, but the Storm can’t let the Mercury continue its scoring spree and expect to win. Phoenix has totaled 250 points in its past two games and has won five of its past seven.
The Storm (20-2) has only lost five games at KeyArena since 2008, going 16-1 that season, so it’s not unimaginable for the team never to lose in the building. But, if it could happen, Phoenix (10-12) would be that team.
Who’s your money on? Let’s get you started with the starting lineups:
MERCURY
F Penny Taylor
F Candice Dupree
C Tangela Smith
G Temeka Johnson
G Diana Taurasi
STORM
F Swin Cash
F Lauren Jackson
C Camille Little
G Sue Bird
G Tanisha Wright
Tonight’s officials are Kurt Walker, Amy Bonner, and Lamont Simpson.

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