Storm’s Semifinals Win Defined by Fourth Quarters
By Tyler Berry
Nothing about that semifinals series was easy for Sue Bird and the Seattle Storm. It took a Hall-of-Fame-caliber fourth quarter in the deciding game five on Tuesday night for Seattle to knock of Bird’s best friend Diana Taurasi and the Phoenix Mercury.
And it was exactly the fourth quarter ending the Storm hoped for, especially in a series defined by its fourth quarters. For the first time all series, it was Seattle that made the game-ending (and series-ending) run to punch its ticket to the WNBA Finals against Washington.
Let’s recap how this pivotal game five came to be:
Seattle – Games 1 and 2
At home, the Storm got out to huge third quarter leads in each of the first two games – 16 in game one and 19 in game two. Each time, the Mercury climbed its way back in, losing the opening game by four in regulation and taking game two to overtime before losing again by four.
That game two run was when it started to feel like momentum was shifting toward Phoenix. In one of the greatest individual playoff performances of all-time, Diana Taurasi willed her team back into the game, scoring 14 of her of her 28 points in the fourth quarter. She led Phoenix on a 23-6 run to end regulation, firing off three straight threes to send the game to overtime. Sure, the Storm won, but it felt more like they escaped.
Phoenix – Games 3 and 4
At home, following two days of much-needed rest, Phoenix came out firing on all cylinders in game three, keeping pace with Seattle all night before absolutely demolishing the Storm with a 26-10 fourth quarter and winning its first game of the series by 20 points.
Game four felt more like games one and two. Seattle played brilliantly for nearly 30 minutes, at one point building a 16-point lead early in the third quarter. But a 13-2 run part way into the final quarter saw Seattle’s lead squandered to just one. After a Griner bucket and two free throws from DeWanna Bonner, Phoenix grabbed a 78-76 lead. Back-and-forth play for the next few minutes culminated in another Griner basket with 14 seconds left to win the game for the Mercury, tying up the series.
Seattle – Game 5
If you noticed a pattern in this semifinals series, it’s that every game changed momentum in the fourth quarter. In games one and two, huge runs by Phoenix nearly led to road wins by the Mercury. In game three, it was a near-perfect final quarter that broke the game wide open and gave Phoenix its third win in an elimination game this postseason. Another big run to end the third and open the fourth tied the series at 2-2.
But in Game 5, it was Bird and the Storm that finally got the better of the Mercury in the closing quarter.
Early on, Phoenix looked great, jumping out to a 11-point lead in the second quarter. Bird, playing with a facemask due to a broken nose, couldn’t get going and, at one point, missed eight consecutive field goal attempts. After hitting three of her first four shots, the point guard wouldn’t make another one until the 6:31 mark of the fourth. Yet, the best of the best always finds ways to overcome shooting slumps and perform in crunch time.
When Seattle needed her most, Sue Bird delivered a performance for the ages. She made five of her last six shots, including a clutch three with 2:51 left and then another with 45.9 seconds left to put Seattle up by 10. Paralleling Diana Taurasi’s game two performance, Bird scored 14 of her points in those final minutes, sending KeyArena into a frenzy. She finished with 22 points and five assists, her best performance of the series.
When it mattered most, the Storm controlled the fourth quarter and, because of that, they head back to the WNBA Finals for the first time since 2010.