The Storm will square off for the 10th time this season against rival Phoenix in a win-or-go home Game 5 in the WNBA semifinals. Fortunately for Seattle, the clincher will be on its home court, KeyArena, at 7 p.m. Tuesday.
PHOENIX — One last go-around.
The Storm will square off for the 10th and final time this season against rival Phoenix in a win-or-go home Game 5 in the WNBA semifinals with a ticket to the championship round on the line.
Fortunately for Seattle, the clincher will be on its home court, KeyArena, at 7 p.m. Tuesday.
On the downside, though, the top-seeded Storm might not have the services of Sue Bird who broke her nose in Game 4 Sunday and sat out the second half of an 86-84 defeat against Phoenix at Talking Stick Resort Arena.
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The 37-year-old All-Star point guard watched helplessly from the sideline as the Mercury once again chased down the Storm, which suffered another fourth-quarter collapse.
In Game 1, Seattle had a 16-point lead in the third quarter and was up 17 in the third of Game 2 before holding off the Mercury for a pair of 91-87 victories, the second one in overtime.
This time, the Storm went ahead by 17 points (33-16) early in the second quarter and 16 points (60-44) with 8:26 left in the third when Phoenix began seizing control with Bird out of the game.
“She said at halftime, ‘You guys are prepared for me not being out there,’ ” said Alysha Clark, who finished with 13 points. “She’s one of the greatest point guards to ever play the game, so, of course, we’re going to miss her out there on the floor. Just her offensive IQ. It was a little tough, but we had ourselves in position to win the game.”
Bird was a victim of friendly fire when she caught an inadvertent elbow from teammate Breanna Stewart with 4:23 left in the second quarter.
With a towel covering her bloody nose, Bird was escorted to the locker room by a trainer. She returned to the bench in the fourth quarter, but was finished for the night with her seven points and two assists in 10 minutes.
“Obviously, losing Sue had an effect,” Seattle coach Dan Hughes said. “She wanted to come back in, but they couldn’t get the bleeding stopped.”
Bird’s availability for Tuesday was not immediately clear Sunday night and she’ll be re-evaluated Monday. Rookie Jordin Canada replaced Bird.
Seattle had a 71-61 lead with 51.2 seconds left in the third, but as the Storm was clinging to its advantage, the crowd of 8,137 at Talking Stick Resort Arena could sense momentum shifting.
The Storm lost the lead when Brittney Griner sank a layup to tie the game 76-76 and DeWanna Bonner put Phoenix on top with two free throws on its next possession.
“They lost their leader,” said Bonner, who finished with 27 points, eight rebounds, four steals and three assists. “However, they still played great basketball. They still made some shots.”
After falling behind by four, Seattle knotted the game at 84-84 thanks to two free throws from Stewart and Natasha Howard’s floater with 31.7 seconds left.
At the other end, Bonner missed a short jumper that was recovered by backup forward Camille Little who dished to Griner for a go-ahead hook shot.
With 14.1 seconds left, Hughes used his final timeout and drew a play for Stewart in the post.
The league MVP had success inside against Bonner while scoring 22 points on 8-for-17 shooting.
However, on the final play, the 6-foot-9 Griner switched to Stewart, who turned baseline and got trapped beneath the rim as time ran out before getting off a shot.
“We knew the ball was going to go to Stewie at the end for her to make a play,” Griner said. “I just had to play defense. Don’t foul and try not to let her score.
“She drove. I stayed there with my hands up high.”
Bonner admitted Phoenix made a defensive snafu at the end.
“That was a mess-up, but it was the best mess-up ever because we switched too early,” Bonner said smiling. “That was not the plan, but it worked.”
The Mercury was able to laugh while the Storm lamented another fourth-quarter meltdown.
“The initial play we wanted to run kind of broke down early and then we were just playing on the fly,” Stewart said. “Being under the basket with BG on me is a tough shot. Still, I should have gotten the shot off just because it’s the last play of the game.”
Howard scored 14 points and Jewell Loyd 11 for Seattle, which lost consecutive games for the first time this season.
Without injured starter Stephanie Talbot (concussion), the short-handed Mercury used primarily six players and outscored Seattle 20-13 in the fourth quarter. During the series, the Mercury is averaging 23.5 points in the fourth, while Seattle is 11.8.
“I think we just wanted it a little bit more,” Bonner said. “We knew if we lost the game, we were going home.”
Bonner and Griner played the entire 40 minutes Sunday and were unstoppable while combining for 56 points and 20 rebounds. The dynamic duo received just enough support from Phoenix star Diana Taurasi, who overcame an off shooting night in Game 3 and finished with 16 points.
“We protected our house, that was our goal,” Mercury coach Sandy Brondello said. “We’re just very excited that we get to play a fifth game. Obviously, it’s on Seattle’s home court, but we have played well away from home this year. We’ll go in there and put on a good showing and may the best team win.”
Phoenix, which has won four consecutive elimination games, became the first team to force a Game 5 after falling behind 0-2 in the WNBA playoffs.
Now it’s the Storm’s turn to stave off elimination against the league’s greatest closer, Taurasi, who is 13-0 in winner-take-all games.
“It’s been a very equal series, which you would expect because the teams are so familiar with each other,” said Hughes, noting Seattle has played Phoenix in two exhibitions, three regular-season games and four playoff contests. “But we worked all year to get a chance to play Game 5 at home, so we’ll value that.”