PHOENIX — No one could blame Crystal Langhorne for being spent after a long night of trying to guard a 6-foot-8 center and putting up 21 shots at the offensive end.
Langhorne, the Storm forward who drew Brittany Griner duty on defense, scored a season-high 27 points and pulled down eight rebounds, but it wasn’t enough as Seattle fell 87-72 to the Phoenix Mercury on Tuesday night at the US Airways Center.
Griner, the former WNBA top overall draft pick in 2013, finished with 19 points and eight rebounds and got help from guard Diana Taurasi, who led the way with 20 points and seven assists for the Mercury.
“We’re still trying to get into things and get better every time we play,” Langhorne said. “Trying to be physical with (Griner). Trying not to let her get easy catches.”
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Langhorne did all she could, scoring in double figures for the fourth straight game, and got offensive help from Camille Little with 14 points and Shekinna Stricklen with 13 off the bench.
“She had her hands full,” Storm coach Brian Agler said of Langhorne. “The tough thing about Phoenix is you can’t give the post player that’s on Griner a lot of help, because they have so many shooters. That puts a lot of pressure on that one-on-one situation.”
The Storm has historically dominated the Mercury, including four wins in four regular-season meetings last season and a 36-17 mark against Phoenix entering this season. But Seattle has lost its first two meetings with the Mercury in 2014, both on the road by double digits. The team isn’t using all the early travel as an excuse, however.
“When you’re in a situation like this, you’ve got to find a way to use it to your benefit,” Agler said. “We showed signs (Tuesday) of playing pretty good basketball; we just have to extend that through 40 minutes.”
The Storm led 20-18 after one quarter and shot 56 percent in the first 10 minutes. Seattle took its largest lead, 26-19, on Stricklen’s second three-pointer of the second quarter.
Stricklen hit three triples in the game.
The Mercury took control, however, going on a 9-0 run to grab the lead, and when Taurasi was fouled in the act of shooting with 0.8 seconds left in the first half and converted the three-point play, Phoenix led 43-34.
The Mercury went ahead 50-36 on a three-pointer from Erin Phillips with 7:08 left in the third quarter, but the Storm battled back to cut the lead to 57-51. Langhorne scored 10 of her points in the quarter, and Stricklen hit four free throws.
Storm guard Sue Bird took a shot to the head from Taurasi on a drive to the basket with 1:31 left in the third, and Taurasi was whistled for a foul that was originally called a flagrant foul. The officials reviewed the play while Bird and Taurasi, a pair of WNBA veterans, shared a laugh on the court.
The call was downgraded to a common foul, but Bird hit both free throws to cut the Phoenix lead to 61-53.
The Storm couldn’t get any closer in the fourth quarter, however, as two of Seattle’s top four scorers, Bird and Tanisha Wright, suffered through a poor shooting night — a combined 10 points on 3-of-17 shooting from the field.
• WNBA president Laurel Richie attended the game. She said she visits every city in the league at least once during the regular season and is planning to take in a game in Seattle this summer.
• Bird, Wright, Langhorne, Stricklen and Little are the five Storm players on the WNBA All-Star ballot that was released league-wide on Tuesday. Voting has begun online and via mobile devices and ends on July 2.
• Storm guard Jenna O’Hea did not play due to a broken toe and has been out for a week, but Agler said she is shooting and will play again when she can tolerate the pain.