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Seattle Storm Vs. Phoenix Mercury: Katie Smith's 26 Points Lead Storm To 85-70 Win, Second Place In Western Conference

Kevin Pelton of noted in his preview of tonight's game that each of the Seattle Storm's nine wins over the Phoenix Mercury since 2009 have been different.

In keeping with that pattern, tonight's 85-70 win at KeyArena was a game full of anomalies, both good and bad.

Storm reserve guard Katie Smith led the Storm with a season-high 26 points, including 5-for-7 shooting from beyond the arc. Center Lauren Jackson finished with only four points and didn't score until halfway through the fourth quarter, a testament to the Mercury actually playing rather good interior defense throughout the game.

"It was the same game plan as when she was playing early on in the season," said Mercury forward Candice Dupree, referring to the season opener in which Jackson recorded 15 points and seven rebounds. "We were trying to contain Sue (Bird) a little more and Katie. Obviously Katie didn't work so well. She's a great shooter and a great player in the league."

Mercury guard Diana Taurasi's season-high 36 points were the most by a Storm opponent this season, surpassing her own 31 on June 4. But adding to the strange flow of this game, she only scored eight points in the second half after scoring 28 in the first half and 20 in the second quarter alone.

Stopping Taurasi in the second half proved to be the key - nobody else on the league's highest-scoring team really picked up the slack as the Mercury only shot 7-for-29 in the second half.

"We didn't try to do anything differently, I just thought we played a little bit passive with her," said Storm coach Brian Agler of how they responded to Taurasi's hot first half shooting. "We gave her too much space. We changed a few things up at halftime, but nothing that should have bothered her a whole lot. We just gave her a different look. I was disappointed at halftime because I thought we gave her too much space to work."

But what's ultimately most surprising about this game is that the Storm managed to win a 3-point shootout with the Mercury with Jackson being a non-factor on the offensive end for most of the game.

With 13 three-pointers, the Storm tied a franchise record for most in a regulation game. Their 54.2 percent accuracy was also a season high. Meanwhile, the Mercury finished with tied with season-low 70 points after scoring 41 in the firt half. 

And although it's surprising that a team that has steadily had to creep out of the league's 3-point shooting cellar won a game that featured 47 long-range attempts against the league's highest scoring team, it's also a sign of encouragement: they managed to weather a superstar performance from one of the league's best scorers while Smith stepped up after the majority of their starters struggled.

"I decided to not necessarily settle for jumpers as much, but just attack the hole a little bit and get in there and finish," said Smith of her season-high performance. "It's more of a mindset. It's not settling and trying to make them work. Other teams try to make us work on defense by attacking and trying to get us on our heels so we have to do the same thing."

Of course tempering that encouragement is the reality that the chances of the Storm winning another game in quite this fashion is unlikely when they meet the Mercury again in the playoffs, but the unpredictability of these matchups is part of what makes them so exciting.

"It kind of mentally tricks you a little bit because you know every little thing they like to do," Taurasi said about the familiarity between the two teams. "They know what we like to do. Most of these games have come down to the last two or three minutes. We have to find a way to get stops and good offensive possessions at the end."

Most importantly, the win clinched second place in the Western Conference and home court advantage in their first round meeting with the Mercury next week. Yet in addition to clinching second place, home court advantage in the first round of the WNBA playoffs, and winning the regular season series 3-1, the Storm also became only the second team in WNBA history to reach 20 wins for in four consecutive seasons (the Los Angeles Sparks hold the record, making the playoffs from 1998-2004).

A large part of that ability to continue reaching the 20-win plateau - even in seasons where Jackson hasn't been a full health - is the home crowd that cheered them on tonight. The reward for the team this season is an opportunity to use that to their advantage in the first round.

"This crowd and these Seattle fans love women's basketball," Smith said. "They love the players that are here, but they follow everyone. It's an honor to do it front of them because they really appreciate what we do and how hard we do it. It means a lot."