SEATTLE — It took the Seattle Storm more than a half to finally wrestle the lead from Phoenix on Thursday, and they did it with a surge where they played some of their best basketball of the season.
Powered by a third quarter in which the Storm dominated the Mercury both defensively and offensively, Seattle rallied from a 12-point first-half deficit to win 88-79 and improve to 2-0 this season against Phoenix. It was also the Storm’s 14th victory over the Mercury in their past 16 meetings
The Storm, who have been offensively challenged during much of their 2013 WNBA campaign, now are 5-0 this season when they score 75 points or more.
The Storm opened the third quarter with a 9-2 run and took its first lead on a 3-pointer from Shekinna Stricklen early in the period. By the end of quarter, Seattle had outscored Phoenix 28-16 and completely seized momentum from their Western Conference foe.
“We came out and had a really good third quarter,” guard Tanisha Wright said. “We focused on doing the things we needed to do and it paid dividends.”
The Storm pushed the tempo in the third quarter, something that often favors the Mercury, to help take over the game. Head coach Brian Agler said it was defense that led to the quick opportunities at the other end.
“It took us a while to get stops,” Agler said. “The first half it seemed like we just couldn’t get consecutive stops. Of course when that happens we are going to play against their set defense.
“In the second half, I thought our defense was better and that gave us an opportunity to get out in transition.”
Tina Thompson and Temeka Johnson each scored 16 points to lead the way for Seattle, but after the game it was rookie Tianna Hawkins that everyone was talking about.
Hawkins had arguable her best game as a pro, scoring 13 points, shooting 6-for-7 from the field and grabbing five rebounds. She was instrumental in getting the Storm back into the game in the second quarter and helping them take over in the third.
“She’s gotten better,” Agler said. “The last 10 days before the all-star break she really started coming on in practice and came back and was hungry, so she earned the opportunity and she, and us — reaped the benefits.”
Hawkins’ performance was well-received by her teammates who agreed with Agler’s assessment that her hard work in practice in translating to games.
“We absolutely know what she’s capable of,” Wright said. “I think tonight she showed just a glimpse of what she is capable of. She has a lot more of that to give, but we are happy she is starting to come into her own. It’s starting in practices. We are starting to see her tenacity and her competitiveness in practice and because of that, whenever she steps on the floor it’s showing.”
The Storm missed their first seven shots and were held scoreless for the first 4:17 of the game, but the Mercury were almost equally as bad, missing their first five. Phoenix built a 7-0 lead, but failed to fully capitalize on Seattle’s early game struggles. Johnson knocked down two crucial 3-pointers in the quarter to keep the score close.
After Tina Thompson’s 3-pointer opened the second quarter, Phoenix went on a 9-0 run to take a 26-16 lead and led by as many as 12 in the quarter. Seattle slowly chipped away for the rest of the quarter and worked the deficit down to one with a 3 from Stricklen in the final minute of the quarter and trailed 44-41 at halftime.
After falling behind in the third, the Mercury remained close in the final quarter, but any hope of a comeback was lost when Diana Taurasi fouled out after picking up three fouls in 35 seconds in the game’s final four minutes.
Trailing by six at the time, Phoenix coach Corey Gaines also removed Brittney Griner, whose minutes were limited in her first game back from a left knee strain. Griner scored 11 points and grabbed four rebounds and blocked four shots. Taurasi finished with just 10 points. DeWanna Bonner paced the Mercury with 19.
After losing seven of nine games before the all-star break, the Storm have now won two straight, both victories over teams above them in the Western Conference standings.
“It’s a progression,” Wright said. “We are still getting better as we go. I think you will see a better Storm team in the second half (of the season).”
Aaron Lommers covers the Seattle Storm for The Herald. Follow him on twitter @aaronlommers and contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.