The Mercury's 89-71 win over Seattle extended their winning streak to a franchise-record 13 games, the longest winning streak in the WNBA this season.
“Phoenix is tough,” Storm center Crystal Langhorne said. “You have to play them really well. You have to execute. You can't have any slipups against them because they take advantage of your turnovers and they score at such a good efficiency.”
The victory also clinched a playoff spot for Phoenix. They are the first team to secure a postseason berth so far this season.
The Storm turned the ball over 22 times and the Mercury turned those turnovers into 31 points, significantly more than the 18-point margin of victory.
“Phoenix is a heck of a team,” Agler said. “But if I had to evaluate our issues tonight, I thought we gave them a lot of easy opportunities with our turnovers.”
The Storm had just three turnovers in the first quarter. As a result, the game remained close for much of the period.
Phoenix led 7-0 just over a minute into the game, but the Storm answered with a 14-5 run to take its first lead with 3:24 remaining in the opening quarter. Seattle led twice in the quarter, but never led again the rest of the game. After Alysha Clark's left-handed runner in the key tied the score at 21 with 6.2 seconds remaining in the first, Penny Taylor's 3-pointer at the buzzer gave Phoenix the lead for good.
Diana Taurasi helped extend the Mercury's lead by scoring eight points in the first 2½ minutes of the second quarter.
“We missed some baskets and they scored and then Diana hit two 3s in the second quarter and the next thing you know it's a 10-point game at halftime,” Langhorne said.
Taurasi finished with 22 points, 17 of which came in the first 14 minutes of the game. Not only did Taurasi lead Phoenix in scoring, but she also dished six assists and grabbed five rebounds. Candice Dupree (19 points), Brittney Griner (17 points) and DeWanna Bonner (10 points) joined Taurasi in double figures.
“I've been in this league a long time and they are one of the better offensive teams I've seen come through here,” Agler said. “I'm not talking about their numbers and how many points they score. I'm talking more or less about the pressure they put on you at a lot of different positions and how they space the floor. To beat a team like this you've really got to eliminate your mistakes.”
The Storm, who were led offensively by Langhorne's 22 points, trailed by as many as 22, fighting back to get within 10 in the second half. Still, Phoenix always had an answer.
“Today was a tough game,” Taurasi said. “I think for the most part both teams were playing pretty well. In the third (quarter), we just made a little run and created more separation. That's what got us over the hump.”
With nine games remaining, the Storm are 21/2 games behind Los Angeles for the fourth and final playoff spot. The Sparks own the tiebreaker should the two teams finish the season tied.
With the Storm's streak of 10 consecutive playoff appearances in jeopardy of ending, Agler insists his team is taking things one game at a time.
“We're going to focus on getting better and get ready for the next game,” he said.
Aaron Lommers covers the Seattle Storm for The Herald. Follow him on Twitter at @aaronlommers and contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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