DeWanna Bonner of the Mercury collected 27 points and 11 rebounds in an 86-66 victory over the Storm in Game 3 of their semifinal.
PHOENIX — The top-seeded Storm feared retribution from superstar Diana Taurasi, who was sensational in the previous two outings of their WNBA semifinal against No. 5 Phoenix yet came up short in a couple of narrow Seattle victories.
Turns out the Storm should have been wary of DeWanna Bonner.
The All-Star forward collected 27 points and 11 rebounds to lead the Mercury to an 86-66 victory over Seattle in Game 3 of the best-of-five series on Friday at Talking Stick Resort Arena.
“DB is a difficult matchup because she’s so versatile,” said league MVP Breanna Stewart, who finished with 15 points – 12 fewer than her playoffs average. “I need to do a better job defensively. Just being in a better stance, staying in front of her and make her make a tough shot.
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“She does a series of pump fakes and we can’t bite on that. We need to make her shoot over us. … You saw tonight what she can do and she carried that team.”
The Storm leads 2-1 in the series and needs a road victory at 2 p.m. Sunday to avoid a Game 5 in Seattle.
Historically, Seattle has struggled away from home in the playoffs – losing the last eight postseason road games.
“We were playing catchup for most of the night, but it never quite felt like we were out of it,” coach Dan Hughes said. “We would kind of get back into the game and they would separate.”
Front-runners for the past two months of the regular season and in the playoffs, the Storm fell behind by 10 points midway in the third quarter before rallying and cutting its deficit to 60-56 to start the fourth.
Phoenix faced double-digit deficits in the fourth quarter of the previous two games before losing both 91-87 in Seattle, including an overtime loss.
This time, the Mercury led 60-56 to start the fourth with the outcome in doubt.
But for the third straight game, the Storm stumbled in the final minutes against Phoenix and Taurasi, who didn’t score in the first three quarters.
Still, the Mercury didn’t necessarily need Taurasi and put the game away with a 14-0 run to start the fourth and go ahead 74-56 with 5:48 left. The Storm never got closer than 13 points the rest of the way.
Seattle was the second-highest scoring team in the regular season while averaging 87.2 points, but in the past three games the Storm is averaging just 11.3 in the fourth.
“Today they went on a run,” Stewart said. “That’s what happened the past three times, but it’s not so much their run it’s us having the answer for that and creating our own run. I don’t think today we had a run at all.”
The 66 points were the second fewest this season for the Storm, which shot 36.7 percent from the field and 21.7 percent (5 of 23) on three-pointers.
Making matters worse, Seattle was 3 of 5 on free throws – a season low in attempts.
“We’re a team that uses the foul line and we didn’t get there,” Hughes said. “I’m going to study that. … Maybe we need to be more aggressive. Maybe we need to attack their closeouts more.”
Natasha Howard scored 19 points and Seattle received an unexpected offensive boost from the bench. Reserves Jordin Canada and Crystal Langhorne each scored 11 points and Sami Whitcomb sank two three-pointers.
However, Seattle couldn’t overcome a woeful performance from its All-Star backcourt of Sue Bird and Jewell Loyd who combined for just two points on 1-for-18 shooting.
Bird, finished with 11 assists, but went scoreless for just the second time in 42 career playoff games. Her last scoreless outing was in 2004.
Loyd’s two points were a career-playoff low and 16 fewer than her average in the postseason.
“There’s a lot of reasons that got us to this point and Jewell and Sue are big parts of that,” Stewart said. “We know as a team they’re going to knock down shots.”
The Storm locked down defensively on Taurasi, who scored her first basket – a layup – with 6:24 remaining after missing her first eight shots.
After the basket, she raised her hands and smiled as the crowd of 15,185 erupted in cheers. Taurasi finished with a playoff-low eight points on 3-for-11 shooting.
With Taurasi muted offensively, Phoenix leaned on Bonner who is averaging 25 points and 11 rebounds in the series.
Brittney Griner also tallied 21 points and 11 rebounds while Yvonne Turner, who started in place of injured Stephanie Talbot, finished with 19 points, seven rebounds and six assists.
“We weren’t quite sure how they would adjust their lineup and what effect that would have on us,” Hughes said. “Before, the Mercury would spread the floor really well. But with Yvonne they come at you off the dribble. … She changed the dynamic of the game.”
Phoenix shot 50 percent from the floor, 25 percent (6 of 24) on three-pointers and made 8 of 11 free throws.
“They don’t want the season to be over just like we don’t ours,” Stewart said. “They had more of a sense of urgency. Now it’s a quick turnaround and back at it again on Sunday.”