SEATTLE — All Sue Bird got in return for the hand in Diana Taurasi’s face was a game-tying bucket with 3.6 seconds left. And a quick embrace.
Bird leaped, and Taurasi drained from the corner over the outstretched hand of her former teammate at UConn to fully erase what was once an 18-point deficit for the Mercury. Taurasi gave Bird a smile and the two stars parted for their separate benches.
Bird had seen this before. “Many times as her teammate,” she said.
Taurasi’s flair – and game-high 28 points – sent the game to overtime, but Bird’s hustle and tenacity ended it. Holding a lead ahead of a jump ball with 2.1 seconds left, Breanna Stewart tipped it to the sidelines and Bird chased it down, took a foul and drained both free throws. Final: Storm 91, Mercury 87.
“We were able to get some sort of rhythm I don’t think we’ve been able to this season,” Taurasi said after Phoenix fell just short again. “There were a lot of factors. I’m proud with how we fought.”
The Mercury are now back where they started – on the ropes. After two games at KeyArena and two losses to open their WNBA semifinal against the Storm, the series heads to Phoenix with the Mercury facing elimination every game now. A Phoenix team that hasn’t had more than two consecutive days off in more than a week will have to take three in a row from the WNBA’s top team to avoid a semifinal ouster for the fourth straight year.
Brittney Griner was back on her game Tuesday, but it was Taurasi who led the comeback. She scored 17 points in the second half and overtime.
“In some ways it’s almost impossible to stop,” Bird said. “Once she gets in that zone, it’s really difficult.”
Taurasi blamed herself for Griner’s subpar Game 1. Coach Sandy Brondello said Griner was playing too fast. Well, Griner was well-fed by her point guard and a force in Game 2. Attacked by a constant stream of double and triple-teams in the paint, Griner nearly matched her production in the first half alone.
Griner scored 23 points and grabbed 10 boards, but she fouled out a minute into the extra period. When Phoenix needed to win two jump balls in the final seconds, it had to turn to Camille Little. Stewart tipped the final one to Bird, and Seattle escaped again, having let its lead dwindle but not disappear.
Griner’s re-emergence was overshadowed by the same problem that befell the Mercury in Game 1: a tenacious Seattle D that can strike at anytime and spark a game-sealing run. The Storm held Phoenix without a field goal for nearly five minutes in the first half to take a nine-point lead it would extend to as many as 18 and only relinquish on the final shot of regulation.
The Storm gave the Mercury a chance to grab hold of the game early, but Phoenix was only able to mount a single-point lead by the end of a cold-shooting first quarter for Seattle (5-17). Six Phoenix turnovers turned into 12 Seattle points, and the Mercury entered the half down a dozen.
It appeared that Breanna Stewart might be the stifled star Tuesday night. After leading all scorers with 28 points in Sunday’s series opener, little was falling for Stewart in the first half. But she could only be contained for so long. Stewart exploded in the second half and overtime and finished with 27 points to lead the Storm.
“I knew this series was going to be tough no matter what,” Bird said. “I didn’t care what their seed was. I didn’t care if they were tired or flew cross country. I knew it was going to be a grind because we’re playing against Diana.”
Phoenix has already advanced in two single-elimination playoff games to get to the semifinals. Now it needs three more.