The No. 4-seed Storm will open the WNBA playoffs noon Sunday at Angel of the Winds Arena in Everett with a single-elimination matchup in the second round against the No. 5 Phoenix Mercury.
It’s the first postseason pairing between the Western Conference rivals since their epic five-game series in 2018.
The last time these teams played a must-win game, Sue Bird scored 14 of her 22 points in the fourth quarter for a 94-84 victory that eliminated the Mercury in Game 5 and sent the Storm to the WNBA Finals.
“There were so many factors that you don’t always get in a series and that one had it all,” Bird said. “Obviously, the ending and what happened for me in the fourth quarter, it probably will go down as the best moment in my career. And then to go on into the Finals and winning and re-establishing the Storm as the standard — it’s all in that one series.”
The Seattle-Phoenix 2018 semifinals had it all, including an overtime thriller in Game 2. The Mercury crushed the Storm by 20 points in Game 3. Bird broke her nose in a Game 4 loss at Phoenix, which set up a must-win thriller against Diana Taurasi, who had been 13-0 all-time in winner-take-all games.
“To me, that series was like the Finals,” said Storm forward Stephanie Talbot, a Mercury reserve in 2018 who missed the three semifinal games against Seattle due to a concussion. “I know it was the semifinals, but it was epic in my opinion. The games were good. It was really cool to be a part of.”
Considering Seattle easily swept the championship series 3-0 against the injury-riddled Washington Mystics, many believed the Storm-Mercury winner would capture the title.
“If you had to pick a rival it would be Phoenix and I’m not saying this because we’re playing them this year,” Bird said. “At different points in time, each one of us has been the standard and the bar in this league.”
Seattle, a four-time WNBA champion, beat Phoenix in 2018 and 2010 en route to winning a title. And the Mercury knocked off the Storm in 2007 before the first of its three league titles.
Sunday’s matchup will be the sixth postseason pairing between Seattle and Phoenix. The Mercury has won three playoff series and holds a 7-6 edge in postseason games.
Meanwhile, Seattle leads the regular-season series 45-32, including 2-1 this year.
“For the last few years I would point to Phoenix,” coach Noelle Quinn said when asked about the Storm’s top rival. “We play them so much. We play them in the preseason. Before the balanced schedule, we would play them 3-4 times. I always think about 2018, that series and that rivalry that was created. Diana and Sue’s friendship.”
The 40-year-old Bird and 39-year-old Taurasi have been linked since 2000 when they paired together at the University of Connecticut and won the 2002 NCAA championship. This summer, the WNBA legends won a record fifth Olympic gold medal for the U.S. women’s national basketball team.
“The best rivalries, especially in the pros when there’s player turnover, are those where you have those natural story lines and teams that meet in the playoffs to create those memorable moments,” Bird said. “We kind of had that with (Los Angeles) and if Lisa (Leslie) and Lauren (Jackson) were closer in age, then LA-Seattle would have been an amazing rivalry.
“But for us, it’s been Phoenix. Some of our biggest games have been against them and that’s probably because historically they’ve been so good.”
The Mercury advanced to the second round following a wild 83-82 win over the No. 8 New York Liberty on Thursday night. Without Taurasi, who sat out due to an ankle injury, Phoenix received 22 points from Skylar Diggins-Smith while Sophie Cunningham added 21, including six three-pointers.
In the other second-round game, No. 3 Minnesota will host No. 6 Chicago, which beat No. 7 Dallas 81-64.
In the semifinals, No. 1 Connecticut plays the lowest remaining seeded team while No. 2 Las Vegas takes on the other second-round winner in a best-of-five series.
No. 4 Storm vs. No. 5 Phoenix, (Noon Sunday, ABC) at Angel of the Winds Arena
2021 Seattle-Phoenix regular season series:
Date Outcome Storm high scorer
July 9 L, 85-77 @PHX Jewell Loyd, 16
July 11 W, 92-75 Epiphanny Prince, 15
Sept. 17 W, 94-85 Loyd, 37
Overall series: Seattle leads 45-32
Overall playoff series: Phoenix leads 7-6
Year Series Outcome
2018 Second round No. 1 Seattle* over No. 5 Phoenix, 3-2
2017 First round No. 5 Phoenix over No. 8 Seattle, 1-0
2011 WC semis No. 3 Phoenix over No. 2 Seattle, 2-1
2010 WC semis No. 1 Seattle* over No. 2 Phoenix, 2-0
2007 First round No. 1 Phoenix* over No. 4 Seattle, 2-0
*Won WNBA title