2011 WNBA Playoffs: Seattle Storm Eliminated By Phoenix Mercury At KeyArena

The Seattle Storm host the Phoenix Mercury for Game Three of the best-of-three first round series in the 2011 WNBA Playoffs at 7 p.m. PST at KeyArena. The game will be televised on ESPN2 and broadcast online at ESPN3.com. For more on the WNBA playoffs, visit the section at SB Nation's women's basketball site Swish Appeal. For a preview of this series, visit Swish Appeal's series preview. For more on the Storm, visit our Seattle Storm section with all of our regular season coverage.

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Seattle Storm Vs. Phoenix Mercury Final Score: Storm Eliminated From WNBA Playoffs In a 77-75 Heartbreaker

All that focus on getting homecourt advantage was about games like tonight.

With Game Three of a best-of-three first round playoff series tied with under a minute left, the odds would normally favor the Seattle Storm at KeyArena where they'd only lost twice in nearly 40 previous games.

But ultimately games are decided on the court and the Phoenix Mercury simply took advantage of the opportunity to make a play in the waning moments of the game to pull out a thrilling 77-75 win in Seattle and earn a trip to the Western Conference Finals.

"I think everyone fought so hard this season to get in this position, to have this third game at home and we didn't capitalize on it, we didn't maximize it," said Storm center Lauren Jackson. "I just feel sorry for my teammates, our coaches and all of our fans because everyone's given so much this year. It was just unfortunate."

Coming out of a timeout with 10.5 seconds left, Mercury forward Penny Taylor drove to the basket and missed a layup that was somehow tapped to Candice Dupree who hit a game-winning short jumper with 1.9 seconds left to pull out a win that left Storm fans stunned. The final shot was the biggest of Dupree's team-high 20 point performance to cap off another strong game against the Storm in this series.

"Penny missed," said Dupree, who shot 10-for-15 from the field. "Corey drew up a play for Penny to either shoot a jumper or attack the basket. I thought for sure her layup was going to go in, but it bounced out and everybody was tipping the ball around it happened to land in my hands. I put it back up as quick as I could."

With their sixth first round loss in the last seven years, the Storm fell short in their bid to become the first repeat champions in the WNBA since the Los Angeles Sparks won two straight in 2001 and 2002 after the Houston Comets won the first four titles in league history. Yet even if they didn't repeat, this wasn't exactly the timing most people expected: having beat the Mercury in 11 of the last 13 games entering Game Three, it's safe to say that most Storm fans felt that drawing the Mercury in the first round put them in the fast lane for a return to the Western Conference Finals.

"Not that we disrespect Phoenix or anybody else in this league, but we didn't expect to be in this situation right now," said Storm coach Brian Agler. "We thought we could win and we did a lot of good things tonight, but sometimes things aren't meant to be. That's sort of how this game was. It wasn't meant to be tonight."

All of the emotion and intensity that made this one of the most physical contests between these two rivals in recent memory came to a head in a frenzied final minute that the Mercury won by doing exactly what defined the series for the most part: rebounding and simply outworking the Storm in the paint, as surprising as that might sound to long-time WNBA fans. The Mercury came into KeyArena and outrebounded the Storm 39-35, winning in a grittier fashion than normal when it counted.

Losing the rebounding battle at home to one of the league's poorer rebounding teams only compounds the taste of disappointment that's unlike any Storm fans have felt in some time.

The Storm's two losses at home this year were generally lopsided affairs and their last loss before that was a first round exit against the Los Angeles Sparks in another lopsided Game Three result in 2009. Storm point guard Sue Bird did all she could in leading all scorers with 22 points - and more clutch shots for her portfolio - to keep the Storm in the game, but it simply wasn't enough tonight.

Losing a close game at home simply hasn't happened to the Storm in recent years, whether due to being outplayed down the stretch or just bad luck.

"I will say we made plays down the stretch," said Storm coach Brian Agler. "We had opportunities down the stretch. We had people hit big shots. There were a lot of things tonight that were just uncharacteristic of our team - missing free throws. We'd make plays and we wouldn't convert, whether it be to get back in the offense or whatever it might be. It was very tough."

For the Mercury, the win highlights the value of Dupree and Taylor who have been instrumental in their success this year but are often overshadowed by Diana Taurasi, who fouled out with 6:38 left in the game. As fortuitous as that final play was for the Mercury, it capped off a simply brilliant performance by Taylor who had a career-high 17 rebounds to go with 19 points.

With Taurasi having fouled out, Mercury coach Corey Gaines utilized the full extent of Taylor's ability to drive, pass, and score down the stretch as she knifed through the Storm defense in a back and forth final five minutes.

"I called Penny (Taylor) over and said, 'Penny, take as many shots as you can possible get right now.' I told her that," said Mercury coach Corey Gaines. "And I said I didn't care if they were 'threes, twos, let the ball go. I need you to take as many shots as possible.' And she did. She did. And she also got 17 rebounds which was pretty big."

The Mercury now advance to the Western Conference Finals to face either the Minnesota Lynx or San Antonio Silver Stars who will play Game Three of their Western Conference Semifinals game tomorrow night.

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Seattle Storm Vs. Phoenix Mercury Halftime Score: Storm's Fast Start Helps Them To 39-30 Lead

The Seattle Storm corrected at least two problems from their last meeting with the Phoenix Mercury to take a 39-30 halftime lead in Game Three of the Western Conference Semifinals at KeyArena.

The generally more physical Storm frontline is already doing a better job on the boards, at least staying within three rebounds of the visiting Mercury. Staying with interior play, the Storm have been far more persistent at getting the ball inside to center Lauren Jackson, who has eight points on just 2-for-6 shooting from the field but earned four free throw attempts as one sign of her increased aggression in the paint.

But after the Storm got up by as much as 18 in the second quarter, the Mercury started to make a comeback with a lineup wrinkle that coach Corey Gaines hasn't used much against the Storm this year: sliding 6-foot WNBA leading scorer Diana Taurasi over to point guard and versatile small forward Penny Taylor over to the shooting guard spot along with DeWanna Bonner, Candice Dupree, and Nakia for a five minute stretch. Not only did it create matchup problems for the Storm around the perimeter, but once again the Mercury's defense gave the Storm problems.

The Storm struggled against the Mercury's long and athletic zone defense, shooting 33 percent in the second quarter and being out-rebounded 14 to 6. The Storm should be well aware that the Mercury are capable of maintaining their defensive intensity after Game Two and it sets up what should be an exciting second half.

Tanisha Wright led the Storm with 13 first half points while Candice Dupree led the Mercury with 10.

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Seattle Storm Vs. Phoenix Mercury: Three Keys To Winning Game Three

The first two first round games between the Phoenix Mercury and Seattle Storm have been so unpredictable that the only thing to be said for certain is that tonight's game should be exciting: the winner will go on to the Western Conference Finals, the loser will go into the off-season wondering what happened.

But what, if anything, can be taken from those first two games?

Well, put simply, it's all about defense. But a few more specific suggestions about what might determine the final outcome:

Three keys for the Seattle Storm:

  • Rebounding: As noted previously in this storystream, the Mercury had one of their best defensive games of the season against the Storm on Saturday night. A large part of that was the way they flipped the rebounding margin from Game 1. The odds of that happening again are low, but the Storm simply got outworked in the paint and that can't happen again if they want to move on.
  • Limiting Mercury point guard Temeka Johnson: You can't really stop what the versatile DeWanna Bonner does, Diana Taurasi is so good that she'll burn you for 28 in a half if she gets hot regardless of what you do, and Candice Dupree has had a number of good games against the Storm because of her ability to run the floor and score in transition. But the Storm simply cannot allow Johnson to so easily distribute the ball to all the Mercury's weapons. Johnson had nine assists to two turnovers in Game 2 and only three assists to two turnovers in Game 1. Johnson is in some ways the X-factor for the Mercury and making things hard on her is something much easier to control than the other factors.
  • Establish Lauren Jackson in the post: When Jackson is a threat in the post, opposing defenses have to focus more attention - double to triple teams - on her which leaves other players open. In Game 1, Jackson didn't have a major impact in the final boxscore, but Camille Little killed the Mercury in the post. Against the Mercury on Saturday night, Jackson didn't hit a field goal inside the 3-point line and the Mercury effectively shut down the paint with effective rotations. A pattern for the Storm this season is to go away from the post and resort to jumpers when they encounter resistance. They can beat the Mercury without Jackson at all, but the bigger point is to remain persistent about going inside even if the Mercury come with the same defensive intensity.
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2011 WNBA Playoffs: The Seattle Storm Host The Phoenix Mercury For A Decisive Game Three At KeyArena

The Seattle Storm host the Phoenix Mercury for Game Three of the best-of-three first round series in the 2011 WNBA Playoffs at 7 p.m. PST at KeyArena.

The game will be televised on ESPN2 and broadcast online at ESPN3.com.

For more on the WNBA playoffs, visit the section at SB Nation's women's basketball site Swish Appeal. For a preview of this series, visit Swish Appeal's series preview. For more on the Storm, visit our Seattle Storm section with all of our regular season coverage.

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