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August 16, 2011 at 7:07 PM

Game thread: Seattle at Phoenix

STORM LOSSES: Phoenix was playful after a 81-79 win, getting a local meteorologist to do a skit about a storm rolling through, but after nine games, it’s finally gone. They even had a creative image on the jumbotron reading “R.I.P. 9-Game Losing Streak to Storm,” which included a headstone. Yep, Seattle dropped its first game to Phoenix since September 2009. Bird made a bad read on a hand-off to Smith that Taurasi swiped and used to score the game-winning basket with 6.3 seconds remaining in the game. Would that have been the case with Wright in the game? Cash flopped on a possible answer, expecting a foul and the Storm’s attempt for a lob with one-tenth of a second remaining was a serious prayer everyone knew was going unanswered. The fate was decided at the start of the second half. “They got going early and cut into that lead,” said Bird, who led her team with 23 points. “We changed some things, that’s why we were able to keep it the way it was at the end of the game, but that beginning of the third quarter killed us.” Seattle (13-12) remains seeded fourth in the West, but Phoenix (14-10) gets to sit in second, alone, and has a chance to tie in the head-to-head series with Seattle with one game remaining. The Storm lost its third consecutive road game and fourth of its past five overall. “It’s crunch time now,” said Taurasi, who led all scorers with 24 points. “If you look at the West standings, two through five, one day you can be in second and the next you could be in fourth. Especially the games at home, we really have to take care of. Against teams in our conference we really have to step it up and feel like we can beat them. Today was huge for us.” Teammate Candace Dupree celebrated her birthday and was the main culprit inside, finishing with 16 points as the Mercury outscored the Storm 38-30 inside. Sad stat that goes to waste? Cash had a career-high-tying 15 rebounds. The Storm returns home on Wednesday and will not practice.
FIRST LEAD: Good play inside the paint, rare defense, a three-pointer by DeWanna Bonner and two FTs by Taurasi have the Mercury up 74-72 with 3:28 remaining in the game. It’s their first lead.
REAL CLOSE: Phoenix went on a 14-4 run to pull within 47-42 after a pair of FTs by Taurasi. But three consecutive defensive rebounds by Cash and buckets by Little, Smith, and Willingham have the Storm back up 56-44 with 2:03 left in the third quarter.
RALLY: Phoenix has outscored Seattle 8-2 to open the second half, getting oodles of buckets inside the paint with Robinson on the bench with a fifth foul. The Storm is starting to get called for more violations overall, which is helping the Mercury run and hype the crowd. Seattle is up 45-36 with 7:12 left in the third quarter.
DIRTY MOUTH: Taurasi wasn’t happy about a charging foul called against her with 38 seconds remaining in the half. After she drove and Brewton blew his whistle, she snapped to say, “He’s (expletive) calling it!” pointing at Agler as if the coach was asking the refs to watch certain moves players make. Nah, that never happens. The foul was Taurasi’s fourth.
FOUL TROUBLE: Robinson had some strong moves in the paint, some of them strong fouls that the officiating crew didn’t miss. She was tagged for her third with 5:26 remaining in the opening half. Seattle is up 31-18, running well with the Mercury. Rookie Ewelina Kobryn is entering for Robinson.
POPPED: Cash was popped in the nose on a fast break play that ended with Johnson dishing to Taurasi for a layin at the buzzer. It started on a turnover by Smith (bad pass) and was stolen by Dupree. Seattle leads 21-13 at the end of the first quarter, but it was the type of play that can motivate a team. Cash argued the need for a foul to be called with Brooks while Agler worked on Brewton. The scoring is a season-low for Phoenix.
GOOD TIMES: The matchup is obviously better, but Seattle could have used some of this get-up-and-go on Saturday. The offense is moving fast, the defense is aggressive and it’s entertaining ball all-around. Storm ahead 19-7 following a three-pointer by Belinda Snell.
SCOREBOARD: Have you checked out the other scores around the WNBA? Minnesota rookie Maya Moore was handed her lunch in a return to Connecticut, the Lynx losing 108-79 on Tuesday. San Antonio lost at home to Indiana, so the Storm or Phoenix could make a small move up with a win Tuesday. New York defeated Washington 69-66 in a game that matters not since the Liberty won.
ONE SIDED: Until a Little layin with 5:42 on the clock, it seemed like the matchup was a personal bout between Taurasi and Bird, who have accounted for majority of the points thus far. Seattle leads 11-5, getting off to an energetic start.
BIRD RUN: The Storm is up 7-0 with 7:28 remaining in the opening quarter on points all scored by Bird. Somebody is out to redeem the last game where she was, ahem, benched in the fourth quarter of the worst loss at KeyArena since the 2000 debut.
That guy is still here. If you’ve ever attended a Phoenix game at US Airways Center and sat near the team benches, you know who I’m talking about. With his constant (loud) cheering and encouragement, it’s amazing the Mercury aren’t undefeated at home.
Instead, Phoenix is searching for answers as it tries to get a win after losing six of its past nine games. Tuesday’s opponent in Seattle isn’t much boost to hopes, the Storm owning the Mercury the past two seasons. Phoenix hasn’t won against Seattle since September 2009 — a stretch of nine games, including the 2010 postseason.
The change could come at US Airways simply because it’s not KeyArena. The Storm is 4-9 away from its comfy home, losing its past two road matchups.
A twist to Tuesday is a 6-foot-6 blond running around in Storm green. Yep, PF Lauren Jackson made the trip and is warming up with teammates.
But she won’t play.
In the ultimate tease since doing promos with a championship trophy you won’t win, the quick trip is just another step in Jackson’s long rehabilitation from left hip surgery in June. An Australian Olympian, she’s expected to cleared to play within the upcoming 10 days, possibly in time to face New York at KeyArena on Saturday.
“I feel great,” said Jackson, whose team is 9-9 since she suffered the injury June 21. “I’m at the point where I can suit up, which is probably better than a lot of people thought. It’s been tough, but at least I could look forward to getting back into it and I’ll still have an opportunity to play this year and hopefully help the girls into the playoffs.”
The Storm will play without G Tanisha Wright, who’s dealing with the loss of her mother. G Katie Smith will replace her in the starting lineup.
Both teams need the win, a half-game seperating fourth-placed Seattle from Phoenix, which is tied with San Antonio for second in the West. The Silver Stars host Indiana on Tuesday.
So something will be decided. What is the question. Let’s get started with your staring lineups:
STORM
F Swin Cash
F Camille Little
C Ashley Robinson
G Sue Bird
G Katie Smith
MERCURY
F Penny Taylor
F Candice Dupree
C Nakia Sanford
G Temeka Johnson
G Diana Taurasi
Tonight’s officials are Eric Brewton, Denise Brooks, and Maj Forsberg.

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