The Storm wrapped itself in championship euphoria on Tuesday.
But only Phoenix looked the part, knocking Seattle back to reality with an 89-71 win before 7,429 at KeyArena. It was the Mercury’s franchise-record 13th straight win and the Storm’s third straight loss.
All-Star Diana Taurasi led Phoenix with 22 points and six assists. Candice Dupree added 19 points, while center Brittney Griner added five blocks.
Storm forward Crystal Langhorne led Seattle with 22 points and nine rebounds.
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“The crowd was so loud here tonight,” Langhorne said. “It’s too bad we couldn’t give them more to cheer for.”
A Seattle upset seemed possible early on during the team’s marketed “championship night.” The Storm organized a display of four of the city’s five title trophies — NFL, WNBA and NBA — for pregame fan photos and a halftime presentation featuring Seahawks safety Earl Thomas and Sonics legend Slick Watts.
The energy in the building helped propel an 8-0 Storm run that produced a 21-all tie with 6.2 seconds left in the first quarter. But Phoenix guard Penny Taylor nailed a three-pointer at the sound of the horn for a 24-21 lead.
Turns out it also signaled the end of any hopes of Seattle (9-16) regaining its two-time championship form.
Phoenix opened the second quarter on a 10-2 run and led 47-36 at the break. The Mercury forced Storm anchor Camille Little into four fouls yet did most of its damage on the three-point line, hitting 5 of 7 in the half.
In the second half, Little spun off Griner for a jumper to close the Storm deficit to 58-48 with 2:49 left in the third quarter. Little was called for her fifth foul with 2:09 remaining in the quarter, with Storm coach Brian Agler using multiple players out of position to compensate.
The Mercury (19-3) took advantage of the Storm’s disjointed play, scoring 31 points off a season-high 22 Seattle turnovers.
“Phoenix is tough,” Langhorne said. “You can’t have any slip-ups against them.”
Phoenix became the first WNBA team to clinch a playoff spot, the team’s fifth in its past six seasons.
The Storm began to wrap itself in the reality it will likely miss the playoffs for the first time since winning its first title in 2004. Seattle sits a half-game ahead of last-place Tulsa (8-16) in the Western Conference.
“You can’t worry about how many games (you’re) behind,” Storm guard Sue Bird said. “You have to be aware of it but you can’t let it affect the way you play. You want to have tunnel vision.
“Not to take it way back, but my rookie year (2002), we were in a bad situation and all we talked about was winning the next one and we made it (postseason berth).”
• Storm forward Shekinna Stricklen returned to the lineup after straining her neck at Minnesota before the All-Star break. She started in place of Alysha Clark.
• Storm guard Tanisha Wright was called for a Flagrant 1 foul with 4:35 left in the third quarter.