The Seattle Storm's third quarter performance in their 80-61 win tonight was a perfect illustration of why getting home court advantage in the first round of the 2011 WNBA Playoffs was so important, whether against the Phoenix Mercury or any opponent.
The Storm were clicking on all cylinders in the third quarter, shooting 52.9 percent from the field and holding the Mercury to 4-for-22 shooting on the other end. The Storm used the lead established in the third quarter to cruise to a win, with point guard Sue Bird and center Lauren Jackson not even needing to set foot on the court in the fourth quarter.
"I don't know if we did anything in particular," said Storm coach Brian Agler. "It was what we were doing much of the game. We got some transition buckets. We got to the free throw line. I just thought we ran really efficient offense. A lot of it came from our stops defensively."
The decisive third quarter can be summed up most easily by looking at the assists and turnovers for each team: the Mercury had no assists and two turnovers while the Storm had six assists and one turnover; the Mercury's normally efficient offense had fallen apart while the oft-turnover prone Storm found their rhythm. From the 6:03 mark of the third quarter to the 9:03 mark of the fourth, the Storm outscored the Mercury 20-2.
And a large part of why the Storm were able to establish a rhythm was the balanced contributions they got from players other than Bird and Jackson. In fact, Bird and Jackson had sub-par games statistically.
"We just tried to post up multiple people," said Agler. "They did a lot of switching in their defenses and we got mismatches inside and tried to take advantage of that. We didn't all of the time, but we tried to when we had the opportunity."
Guard Tanisha Wright led the Storm with a game-high 21 points and five rebounds while both Swin Cash (10 points, 11 rebounds) and Camille Little (17 points, 11 rebounds) finished with double-doubles. Little continued to exploit matchups against the Mercury's defense. Cash had an outstanding game on both ends of the court to help the Storm lock down the Mercury throughout the game.
Phoenix's 61 points were the team's fewest since scoring 55 vs. San Antonio on Aug. 28, 2008. The Mercury never shot over 30 percent after their mediocre first quarter performance and for a less-than-stellar defensive team they wouldn't beat much of anyone playing basketball like that.
Perhaps most important, after getting lit up for 28 points in the first half by Taurasi on Friday night at KeyArena, the Storm held the WNBA's leading scorer to just 11 points on 3-for-11 shooting tonight.
"We couldn't get her open shots," said Mercury coach Corey Gaines about Taurasi's performance. "She's coming off of picks, and we couldn't get our run game going. They switched, swung the ball around, and the people who were open couldn't hit the shots."
Compounding problems for the Mercury tonight was the absence of veteran center Nakia Sanford, who did an admirable job on Lauren Jackson in their previous meeting. Penny Taylor came up limping during the game as well after missing the last meeting with back spasms, but led the team with 13 points on 5-for-11 shooting.
Game Two will be in Phoenix on Saturday at 7 p.m. PST on ESPN2.
"We get to go back to Phoenix for game two and take care of our home court," said Taurasi. "That's all there is to really say. They played really well tonight. We expected that. So now we have to find a way to regroup, take the things we did well today and do a little bit more of that on Saturday."