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August 20, 2010 at 6:45 PM

Game thread: Seattle at Phoenix

STORM WINS: Agler said I’d be a better judge of how KeyArena would react if he pulled a stunt like Gaines and my guess is the same reaction — boos. Gaines called for Phoenix to hold the ball when down five late in the fourth quarter. The crowd of 12,459 didn’t fling their maracas, but the smattering of boos were heard. It would be louder in Seattle since the Storm (27-6) is undefeated at home and set to play LA (13-20) to wrap up the season on Saturday. The Sparks clinched a playoff berth with a win against Minnesota on Friday, yet could move up in the standings with a win against Seattle and both San Antonio and Minnesota losing their final games. San Antonio would only be the fourth seed if the others lose out or LA wins and Minnesota loses along with the Silver Stars. Minnesota would have to win and hope LA also wins and San Antonio losses in order to seal the No. 4 seed. It has been wild in the West all summer, so who knows how the final games will play out. My guess is LA in the opening round, however. It would only be fitting for Seattle to break its curse against LA — the team it has never defeated in the postseason. Media in Phoenix want LA because the Sparks would supposedly wear the Storm out before the conference finals, clearing a path for the Mercury to repeat. “We do have postseason players,” said Gaines, whose team was led by Kara Braxton’s 15 points. Not that they’re biased or anything. “We have players that when that time of the year comes around, they turn it on and go to another level. That’s a good sign.” Cash led the Storm with 13 points on 4 of 13 shooting. Vesela had a season-high 12 points and Abrosimova and Bird were stat-fillers. Abrosimova finished with nine points, four steals, and four boards while Bird added seven points, a season-high seven boards and five assists. “I’m really happy to see Ashley get some quality minutes for us,” Cash said. “It was nice to see Vesela get in there for a couple plays and Abby make some plays. We are going to need them.” The Storm swept the Mercury (5-0) for the first time in the franchise’s 11-year history and finished the road stint at a franchise-best 11-6.
CASH GOOD: OK, Cash is winning the game for Seattle. She’s in with Wright, Vesela, Abrosimova, and Little and has scored eight consecutive points to help the Storm build a 71-67 lead with 3:20 left in the game.
CASHED OUT: Cash doesn’t like to alter her minutes because of rhythm, but she doesn’t have much on the offensive end against Phoenix. Cash is 1 of 10 from the field for three points and three personal fouls. Vesela is hot, though, shoot 5 of 6 from the field to help the Storm take a 63-60 lead with 6:09 remaining in the game.
LOW SCORING: The last time these teams played, the Mercury zipped out to a 56-point opening half before losing 91-85 in July. After three-quarters (and no Taurasi), the Mercury have only mustered 54 points. Vesela hit a three-pointer just before the buzzer sounded to tie the score for Seattle. The Storm’s minutes and scoring is even, Wright leading with eight. Lilley has 12 to lead the Mercury.
TEEN NIGHT: There’s a really good crowd in the building, a promotional outreach involving teenagers. And I like it much more than the ones involving kids. Not just because it’s at night, but because the giveaway is maracas. Sounds a little bit like a den of rattlesnakes, but much better than the shrill that should not be heard. Seattle down 53-49 with 1:38 remaining in the third quarter.
GETTING TESTY: Cash and Bonner aren’t liking each other tonight. Cash has swatted Bonner off her and was just tagged for a foul against Bonner underneath the hoop. Luckily for Seattle, Jackson’s shot was before the foolishness. The Storm is down 43-41 with 6:57 remaining in the third quarter.
WILLINGHAM FINE: Willingham appeared to twist her ankle in the opening quarter. She had it re-taped at the break and is likely to return. UPDATE: She will not play in the second half, according to a Storm representative.
BENCH RETURN?: Starters have had three consecutive turnovers and no score until Abrosimova’s layin with 24.5 seconds remaining. Would rather watch the reserves. Seattle down just 35-34, however.
STARTERS BACK: The reserves had a great run on the court, about four minutes of straight action that not even the officials could muck up. Lacey nailed a three-pointer, Robinson had a power move in the paint and rebounded, while Abrosimova picked up a steal. If Lilley weren’t so hot, too, hitting a three-pointer, the Storm might have a lead. Instead, Seattle is down 33-32 with Cash, Bird, Jackson, and Little back in the game with Abrosimova.
BALLIN’: Lilley had a nice coast-to-coast drive for a layin and foul that stole the thunder of Abrosimova’s smooth baseball pass to Vesela for a layin. The Storm reserves are holding their own, keeping the score tied at 25 points with Lilley’s FT ensuing.
STARTERS RESTING: Agler put rookie Alison Lacey in the game with Svetlana Abrosimova, Jana Vesela, Abby Bishop, and Ashley Robinson. The Mercury are playing with Sequoia Holmes, Taylor Lilley, Brooke Smith, and starters Taylor and Dupree. Game is tied at 21 points apiece with 7:05 remaining in the half.
END OF FIRST: Three-pointers are hurting the Storm, again. The Mercury is 4 of 8 in the quarter, including the one Ketia Swanier nailed with 4.6 seconds left in the first quarter to build a 20-16 lead. Seattle has had some sloppy turnovers and is shooting 36.8 percent from the field.
THREE-BALL: OK, the Mercury bigs are 3 of 6 from three-point range to pull within 14-13 with 3:43 remaining in the opening quarter. Both coaches have gone to their bench, but the intensity of play hasn’t changed.
GREAT START: The Storm is playing really well on both ends of the court. Agler wants the team to “attack the rim” more, but Seattle is shooting 5 of 8 from the field and has forced two turnovers while getting the Mercury to miss five buckets. The Storm leads 12-5 with 5:59 remaining in the opening quarter.
SCOREBOARD WATCH: San Antonio defeated Indiana 75-61, giving them the edge for the third seed in the West. We won’t really know until at least Saturday, but the game of the night is in LA with the Sparks hosting the Lynx. Minnesota has to win.
HOLLA!: The Mercury presented G Kelly Mazzante with her 2009 championship ring and recognized Smith, who became the WNBA’s all-time leader in career games at 414 on Friday. The previous mark was 410 by Vickie Johnson. The former San Antonio and New York G retired last season.
It’s a little strange to flip on the television and hear ads proclaiming President Barack Obama “the worst President in our country’s history.” But that’s Arizona. Politics are the only thing hotter than the 100-degree weather.
Normally a Seattle-Phoenix game would be no different. Yet, this might be the blandest matchup in the history of the series, which is quickly becoming a better rivalry than Seattle-Los Angeles. No one from the Mercury camp will speak in specifics during pregame, but G Diana Taurasi is not starting. Storm coach Brian Agler said he’s avoiding any cat-and-mouse games with who he’ll start based on the Mercury’s moves; however he’s not going to play to play normal minutes, unless there’s a chance to win.
Why all the posturing? Well, Seattle secured home-court throughout the postseason on Aug. 10 and Phoenix clinched the No. 2 spot in the West on Aug. 17 with a 90-84 win in LA. The game is meaningless since neither team can improve their positioning. And Agler said there aren’t even any tricks he’s going to withhold, having played Phoenix four times this season.
“We could stay in game-shape, that would be the best thing,” said Phoenix coach Corey Gaines of benefits. “You can’t let that go. I remember (playing) with (Pat) Riley and you’ve got to keep that – the edge. I mean, we had another mini camp for the playoffs – two-a-days. We didn’t win though, we lost.”
Phoenix will host its first-round playoff game on Thursday at US Airways Center while Seattle will host its on Wednesday. Against who? Well, everyone involved in the race is active tonight but the three-way tie for third place in the West won’t be determined until this weekend.
Minnesota needs to win since it doesn’t own head-to-head tiebreakers with San Antonio and Los Angeles. The Lynx could be the loser-out, too, ending the season at Indiana, which is top in the Eastern Conference.
“Any time, the sooner you know, the better,” said Agler, who is 18-2 in the West. “When it’s all said and done, you still probably put the same amount of time in preparing. We’ll know by Sunday.”
One thing we do know, there’s a game Friday. And let’s get it started with you starting lineups:
STORM
F Swin Cash
F Lauren Jackson
C Camille Little
G Sue Bird
G Tanisha Wright
MERCURY
F Penny Taylor
F Candice Dupree
C Tangela Smith
G DeWanna Bonner
G Temeka Johnson
Tonight’s officials are Eric Brewton, Amy Bonner, and Daryl Humphrey.

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