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Final score: Storm 91 – Mercury 85 (W) (21-2)

Attendance | 8044

Box Score | Jayda's Game Blog | Live from Press Row

Game Photos | Scott E | Rick | Scott L | Annie | Toni

Storm vs Mercury  87

Wow. With this win, the Storm clinch the #1 seed throughout the Western Conference playoffs. The next step is clinching home court throughout all of the playoffs, but that is a challenge for another day. Tonight, the Storm had their hands full and had to earn this win.

At the half, I typed the following line on my iPad:

This has the makings of a horrible loss or an epic comeback.

Epic comeback it was.

I think I speak for most when I say I was nervous about this game. Phoenix was on a winning streak and had been running wild on other teams. They seemed like they were finally turning their season around and putting together a run to take better command of their second place position in the West. They also made the trade with Tulsa for Braxton to bolster their inside presence. I don't think anyone expected this game to be easy or a blowout. It was going to be tough and dangerous.

On the other hand, the Storm knew what was at stake. A win tonight would clinch the #1 spot in the West — beating Phoenix would leave the Mercury 11 games behind the Storm with 11 games left on their schedule. With the Storm winning the seasons series (3-0 already and 4-0 with a win tonight), they would win any tiebreakers with the Mercury and secure the top seed.

So, while I was nervous I had confidence that the Storm would come in and take care of business. The Storm also had a decent sized crowd on their size. The stage was set.

And then the Mercury started blowing the doors off the Key.

The difference between the two teams through the first half was incredible. The Mercury were much faster than the Storm. They pushed the tempo to such a pace that I could start typing out a quick note while the Storm were on offense and the Merc would get the rebound and be down the court and scoring before I could look up.

I think their game plan was very smart and one that few teams could really pull off. Basically, the Storm's strength lies in their active, disruptive defense and the offense that they generate by forcing turnovers or getting rebounds. The Mercury were playing so fast that they denied the Storm any opportunity to play their normal team defense.

Storm vs Mercury  13

What kept the Storm in the game early was their efforts to attack the paint. Unlike the Tulsa game when it seemed the Storm weren't interested in going in to LJ until the second half, the Storm were going at the basket very early. A telling play for me came in the first quarter when LJ had the ball out on the three point line. She gave her defender a ball fake and passed off to the right. She immediately dove to her normal spot in the post while the ball was passed again to the Svet in the corner. As soon as LJ got her position, Svet delivered the ball and LJ turned quickly to take a shot.

While that was good, it wasn't making up for how badly the Storm were getting outrebounded. The raw numbers weren't that crazy. Phoenix was only a handful of rebounds ahead of the Storm through the first half, but the killer was the kinds of rebounds the Mercury were getting. On the few missed shots the Merc made in the first, they were able to get the offensive rebounds even after the Storm had successfully blocked out because the none of the Storm players were reacting to the ball. It would bounce in the middle of 3 or 4 Storm and no one would go after it. Then a free Phoenix player would fly in and get it while the Storm stood there and watched. Or the ball would get batted around a bit and inexplicably land in the hands of a Mercury player.

Coach Agler started the second quarter with Veselá, Camille and Le'coe in against Bonner, Braxton and Dupre. He had to give LJ a rest, but it didn't last long. On the second Storm offensive set, the team wasn't communicating well and had horrible spacing. Just as I yelled out something about watching their spacing, Temeka Johnson who had been paying attention to their spacing jumped a pass, stole the ball and ran down for an easy layup. The Mercury had a lot of easy layups in the first half. Coach Agler called a quick timeout to refocus the team and get LJ back in.

The Mercury kept up the pressure and kept their foot on the gas through the second quarter. They built on their lead, which had stayed in the 7-9 range, and started to extend it into double figures. Phoenix were still scoring so fast, they were keeping the Storm from getting into any defensive flow. On defense themselves, the Mercury went into a zone and slowed the Storm down even more. The Storm started jacking threes, but they weren't falling and the Merc were feeding off the long rebounds to start their fastbreaks.

It seemed like for every basket the Storm got, the Mercury got three points. It also seemed like any time the Storm went into the lane they were getting mugged by Phoenix and weren't getting any calls while Phoenix were getting fouls on every possession on the other end. The crowd was going crazy at the refs, especially when we got replays of the non-calls. Sue and Swin both were trying to get explanations and coming up empty. Nothing the Storm were doing was slowing down Phoenix and it looked like this might be the Storm's first loss at home and their first loss against a Western Conference opponent.

Like I said above, at the half the Storm were down by 18. They looked slow and unable to get into any kind of defensive flow. The halftime stats displayed on the big screen before the start of the third showed that Phoenix had shot 61% through the first half. The game looked poised to become a huge Phoenix blowout.

Or an epic Storm comeback.

I've said this before — Coach Agler knows how to make adjustments. The Storm came out in the third quarter with a completely different attitude and energy than they did to begin the game. They were fighting harder for rebounds. They were tipping the ball and disrupting passes. They were running the floor as fast as the Mercury. And when the Mercury started missing shots and cooling off of that 61% shooting, the Storm started to chip away at the lead.

Storm vs Mercury  45

LJ was really punishing the Mercury posts and forcing them to foul. Tangela Smith hammered her during one play and didn't like the call. As the teams lined up for LJ's free throws, Smith decided to play drama queen. She got popped by LJ during the play and was protesting the hit and foul by standing out of position and not allowing Camille to take her place on the side. Smith just stayed there, hunched over, doing the "I'm checking for blood" move that never actually finds any blood, passive aggressively forcing the refs to acknowledge her. They finally did and she was subbed out.

The Storm kept it up, denying the Mercury open looks and second chances while getting their own offense finally rolling. Still, it was dramatic how fast the Mercury were pushing their own offense and how slow and deliberate the Storm were with theirs. Continuing to chip away, the Storm had the lead down to 10 with about three and a half minutes to go in the third quarter. Normally, the goal with a big lead is to get it down to 10 or so by the beginning of the fourth. The Storm weren't going for normal. Remember, this was epic.

As the Storm narrowed the lead, Taurasi started playing with more and more of the "I'm the super star — I should be the one getting all the calls" play she gets into at times. One sequence that had all of us scratching our heads was when Taurasi pushed Swin into a screen, hard, which resulted in a foul on Swin, of course. Even though it was the Storm's fourth team foul, Taurasi ended up shooting free throws. How Swin being pushed into a screen meant Taurasi got free throws wasn't explained to the crowd or the Storm. She just got the shots. Made absolutely no sense.

And then once she started getting the calls she wanted, Taurasi just started flinging herself into players to pick up fouls. I really wish the league would do something to stop that kind of play. An offensive player throwing herself into the defender and getting a foul call is pure crap and Taurasi is the biggest shoveler of that crap.

No matter. The Storm kept up their defensive pressure, outscoring the Mercury 24-8 in the third, and cut the lead down to 2 by the end of the quarter. The crowd was going insane. It was almost as loud as it was back in 2004. Seriously.

The Storm finally tied and then took the lead early in the fourth quarter. Taurasi kept trying to get it back all on her own, but it wasn't helping. The Storm had completely turned the game back on the Mercury and were doing to them what they had been doing to us — being quicker to the ball, running the floor, catching them before they could organize a defense and getting open layups.

Storm vs Mercury  78

The play of the game for me was when Sue chased down a loose ball that had gone into the back court off a Storm possession. It looked like a sure Phoenix pick-up and fast break, but Sue beat the Mercury player to the ball, kept it from going out of bounds and swatted it back to a Storm player who passed it to LJ on the sideline, outside the three point line. She didn't hesitate in putting the ball up and got off the three before a defender could swing over. She hit the shot, putting the Storm up by 7 and getting the crowd into a frenzy.

The Storm had put together a 31-7 run since the beginning of the third quarter.

Excuse me, an epic 31-7 run.

The Mercury hit a couple threes while the Storm continued to score, but it wasn't enough to pull back any closer than 5. Coach Gaines kept calling timeouts and having the Mercury foul the Storm to try and keep the game going, but it got a little absurd. Maybe he was trying to get his team to keep up the never-quit mentality, but when you're down several baskets and there is less than a second left on the clock do you really need a full time out?

Clock games weren't working and the inevitability came to be. The Storm came back from an 18 point deficit to beat the Mercury by 6. It was arguably the best game of the season and one of those wins that shows the real character of this team. The Mercury played clock games to try and show they never give up. The Storm made adjustments and completely turned the game around to show that they never give up. The Storm's confidence should be as high as it's ever been after this win. They can take the best other teams throw at them, roll with it and dish it right back. To quote a recent advertising campaign, our better is better than your better. I'm looking at you Taurasi.

Epic.

Storm vs Mercury  76

Other notes:

During the introductions for the Mercury, the arena staff played the Empire's March from Star Wars. Have the Mercury become the Evil Empire for us? Isn't that still LA, until we beat them in the playoffs at least?

I think it is interesting that any time the anthem is performed in a more traditional style, as it was tonight — quite beautifully I might add, the less likely people are to hoot and holler at the end of the song after the highest note. If the song is performed as if it were an American Idol audition, then the crowd tends to be less respectful — one of the reasons I really dislike the Idol style of embellishing every freaking note.

There was some Doppler bowling during a timeout and the main pin had a Taurasi jersey on it with a photo of her screaming face taped to the top of it. After being flung down the court a couple times into the pins, Doppler took the Taurasi pin and started abusing it. He did a pro wrestling elbow slam on it, threw it at his assistant and then punted it off the court.

Any of you with an iPhone or iPad should already have the WNBA Courtside app. It's a simple little app showing scores and stats, but the cool thing is that it normally updates pretty close to live during games. Normally. Tonight, it didn't start updating until at the half. It was driving me crazy to not have stats.

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