The Mercury’s Camille Little (left) fouls the Storm’s Breanna Stewart in the second half of a game on May 20, 2018, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

The Mercury’s Camille Little (left) fouls the Storm’s Breanna Stewart in the second half of a game on May 20, 2018, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Storm, Mercury renew postseason rivalry

The two teams combined for five WNBA championships between 2004-14.

  • By Percy Allen The Seattle Times
  • Saturday, August 25, 2018 4:53pm
  • SportsStorm

By Percy Allen / The Seattle Times

SEATTLE — Of course, Phoenix.

The Seattle Storm began the season with four straight games against the Phoenix Mercury — including two exhibitions — and the best two teams in the Western Conference will meet in WNBA semifinals.

Game 1 is 2 p.m. Sunday at KeyArena.

No. 1 seed Seattle bypassed the first two rounds of the playoffs while No. 5 Phoenix won two postseason win-or-go-home games, including a 96-86 win at No. 4 Connecticut on Thursday.

No. 2 Atlanta faces No. 3 Washington in the other semifinal.

“We’ve faced a lot of big challenges, played in what I think were playoff-type games to get us ready for this moment,” Storm coach Dan Hughes said. “What I’m anxious to see is us taking the things we’ve learned about ourselves and just moving forward.

“It’s not as if anything necessarily changes. We continue doing the same things. We have a veteran group here and they know how to focus on what’s important.”

Seattle’s playoff pairing with Phoenix reprises a postseason rivalry when the teams dominated the Western Conference a decade ago and combined for five WNBA championships between 2004-14.

The Storm beat the Mercury in the 2010 semifinals en route to their second WNBA title. Three-time WNBA champion Phoenix posted quarterfinal wins over Seattle in 2007 and 2011.

The Seattle-Phoenix matchup features a handful of intriguing story lines and matchups.

Storm forward Breanna Stewart, The Associated Press Player of Year, against two-time WNBA Defensive Player of the Year Brittney Griner.

Seattle’s Sue Bird, the league’s all-time assists leader, battles her good friend and former Connecticut Huskies teammate Diana Taurasi, the league’s all-time scoring leader.

Jewell Loyd, a perimeter scoring threat, squares off against defensive ace DeWanna Bonner — both two-time WNBA All-Stars.

And Hughes takes on his former assistant Sandy Brondello. Both coaches led teams in this year’s WNBA All-Star Game.

“The playoffs — especially where we’re at now — is all about matchups, and it’s a grind because you’re talking about a series as opposed to a one-and-done situation,” Bird said. “But there’s no secrets in this league. The teams and players know each other pretty well.”

After losing 87-82 in the regular-season opener against the Mercury, Seattle won a pair of games in Phoenix — 87-71 on March 23 and 102-91 on July 31 — to claim the three-game regular-season series.

“We worked hard for the No. 1 seed, and you want it so you can have these games on our floor where we know our fans will come out and support us,” Stewart said. “It’s been phenomenal down the stretch in the past few games, but I’m expecting it to be even crazier in the playoffs.”

The Storm has home-court advantage in the 2-2-1 format.

Sunday and Tuesday games will be played in Seattle. Game 3 will be played at Talking Stick Resort as well as Game 4 on Sept. 2, if needed. The Storm will host Sept. 4 if the series extends to a fifth game.

“We’ve had a fantastic season, there’s no doubt about it,” Storm co-owner Lisa Brummel said. “We have a team that wants to win. We have a team that’s capable of winning.

“I think this team has a lot of championships in it and I hope that this is the first one of them.”

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