The Phoenix Mercury won Game 4 of the WNBA semifinals by a nose Sunday, setting up a decisive Game 5 Tuesday in Seattle.
The Storm, forced to play the entire second half without point guard Sue Bird due to a broken nose suffered in the second quarter, could not hold on to the 16-point lead they held early in the third.
The Mercury had a 21-5 scoring run late in the third and into the fourth to turn a 10-point deficit into a six-point lead. Then they played elite defense over the final 14 seconds to prevent the Storm from getting a shot off that could tied or won the game at Talking Stick Resort Arena.
All of it added up to an 86-84 victory, the fourth in a playoff elimination game for the Mercury, the first team in WNBA history to come from down 2-0 to force a Game 5 (7 p.m. Tuesday). The winner meets the winner of Game 5 between Atlanta and Washington in a best-of-five WNBA Finals.
“She’s obviously the brain of that team and she kind of makes them go,” Mercury guard Diana Taurasi said of Bird, her former college teammate at Connecticut. “It was a matter of just buckling down and knowing if we didn’t play well, the season was going to be over. They brought their best effort, I think we did too. It comes down to making a couple of plays at the end of the game and we did that today.”
DeWanna Bonner, Brittney Griner on Mercury beating Seattle in Game 4 to even WNBA playoff semifinal series
Jeff Metcalfe, azcentral sports
Like in Games 1-2 in Seattle, the Mercury fell into a double-digit deficit that grew to as many as 17 in the early second quarter.
Bird’s injury occurred with 4:23 left in the second quarter when the 38-year-old took an elbow from teammate Breanna Stewart that knocked her to the floor. Seattle led 45-33 at the time and still was up 53-42 at halftime, but the game took an inevitable turn with rookie Jordin Canada and Noelle Quinn trying to fill in for the WNBA career assists leader.
“She’s one of our main leaders so obviously it’s a little bit different,” Seattle forward Alysha Clark said. “She does a great job of teaching throughout the season and she even said at halftime you guys are prepared for me not being out there. She just gives you confidence whether she’s on the floor or not. She’s one of the greatest point guards ever to play the game so of course we’re going to miss her out there on the floor, just her offensive IQ. It was a little tough, but we had ourselves in position to win the game.”
The Mercury were within eight in the second quarter (39-31) and third (61-53) but could not create a sustained offensive run until coach Sandy Brondello shifted DeWanna Bonner to small forward and brought Camille Little in at power forward to guard Stewart.
The 6-4 Bonner scored 10 points in Phoenix’s 21-5 run and drove again with the game tied at 84 and less than 30 seconds remaining. She missed an off-balance shot that Little rebounded and passed to Brittney Griner, who hit a five-foot hook.
Mercury coach Sandy Brondello discusses protecting home court, DeWanna Bonner and Sue Bird’s broken nose after Sunday’s Game 4 win over Seattle.
Jeff Metcalfe, azcentral sports
After a timeout, Seattle worked the ball around to the right side to 6-4 Stewart on the baseline, who was being towered over by 6-9 Griner. Stewart passed to the corner as time expired so the Mercury averted the risk of a second overtime game in the series (Seattle won Game 2, 91-87 in OT).
“She drove, I just stayed there, got my hands up high,” Griner said. “That was it basically.”
“I don’t know if it was so much Phoenix,” Stewart said. “The play we wanted to run broke down early then we were just playing on the fly. Being under the basket with BG, it’s a tough shot. I should have gotten a shot off because it’s the last play of the game.”
Griner had 29 points and 12 rebounds, Bonner scored 27 points (her ninth consecutive 20-point game) and Taurasi added 16 points. Stewart had 22 points, Natasha Howard 14, Clark 13 and Jewell Loyd 11.
Bird, now with a broken nose for the fifth time in her professional career, intends to play in Game 5, which Taurasi fully expects.
“I was thinking about her the whole game,” said Taurasi, who asked Stewart about Bird’s condition coming out at halftime. “I hate when Sue gets hurt especially her nose. She’s very picky about her nose. When you have a nose like mine, you really don’t give a s–t. When you have a face like Sue, I would worry, too.”