Professional Basketball

Dream, Mercury Push Semifinals to Fourth Game

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The Phoenix Mercury staved off elimination from their semifinal round series against the Seattle Storm while the Atlanta Dream put the Washington Mystics against the ropes during Friday night WNBA playoff action.

Atlanta Dream 81, Washington Mystics 76

The Washington Mystics, playing without forward Elena Delle Donne who is nursing a bruised knee, had difficulty making adjustments to start the third game in the best-of-five series, held at the Charles Smith Center on the campus of George Washington University in front of an announced crowd of 3,867. Atlanta started the scoring early by going on a 7-0 run, but the Mystics quickly answered. The score was tied 13-13 when the Mystics shooting went cold. They missed the last six shots as the Dream took a 19-13 lead at the end of the first quarter.

Washington forward Tierra Ruffin-Pratt hit a jumper 1:28 into the second quarter for the Mystics first basket after missing nine shots in a row including three shots in the beginning of the quarter. With 7:02 remaining in the period, Mystics guard Ariel Atkins hit a three-pointer to tie the game 22-22. For the rest of the half, both teams would trade baskets and the lead. By halftime, there were 12 lead changes and six ties, and Atlanta led 37-34.

Sykes: Atlanta Dream forward Brittney Sykes scored 17 points in Friday’s semifinal Game 3 against the Washington Mystics. Game 4 is Sunday afternoon in Washington. File photo by Jean Suppa/Sportspage Magazine

The Dream began to find some separation in the third quarter by coming out with a 9-2 run and a 10 point lead with 5:02 left on the clock.

Washington began to chip away the deficit and with just 18.8 seconds left in the third, the Dream led 56-54.

However, Atlanta forward Tiffany Hayes hit a three-pointer as time expired. It was waved off upon further review and the Dream held on to their two-point margin going into the final quarter.

Atlanta extended their lead to five when Hayes nailed a three-pointer with 8:26 left to play and then to eight when Sykes hit a three-ball a minute later. The Dream led 66-58 with 7:23 and the Mystics were forced to play catch up.

Washington cut the deficit to six and then their shooting woes resumed. They missed their next five shots and soon found themselves down by nine with less than four minutes remaining on the clock.

Atkins hit a three-pointer with 2:06 left on the clock to cut the deficit to five, 77-72, but missed on their next two possessions and ran out of time to make the comeback. When the final buzzer sounded, the Dream won 81-76 and took a 2-1 lead in the best-of-five series.

“I have a real simple opening remark. It’s hard to win a game when you shoot 36 percent,” said Mystics head coach Mike Thibault. “I thought our defense, for the most part, was good. It was a pretty wild game. I thought they hurt us early with their offensive rebounding and then it became a slug fest of missed shots, offensive rebounds and free throws. They played better than us.”

The Mystics were led by 18 points from forward Aerial Powers and nine rebounds from forward Tianna Hawkins. Powers played at the power forward position for her first time this season to compensate for Delle Donne’s absence. “I am a player that whatever my team needs I try to give to them. I realized that they needed some help rebounding, so I tried to make that my goal to get in there and rebound. Whatever gaps there are to fill I just try and do my best and fill them,” said Powers.

This was the third playoff game for Dream head coach Nicki Collen, who now has a 2-1 post-season record.

“I was telling my team I’ve only coached in three playoff games but that felt like a grind-it-out playoff type game. Nothing came easy. I thought that Washington was incredibly scrappy,” said Collen. “I just trust a lot of people on this team, and I trust them to take shots. We’re now 18-0 when we’re leading going into the fourth quarter, so we know when it comes to win time, we know that’s us. Not that we’ve never battled from behind, but we know when we take a lead into the fourth quarter. We know how to grind it out.”

Atlanta was led by 23 points and 11 rebounds from guard Tiffany Hayes and forward Jessica Breland added 11 rebounds and five assists in the effort.

“I just always think, we got to get in there and rebound. They were doing it on us so I’m that type of player. If they gone do it to us, we’re gone do it to them too. I was just trying to get in there and give us as many offensive chances as we can get,” said Hayes.

The Mystics, now facing elimination, will host the Dream in Game 4 of the semifinal series starting at 2 p.m. CT in Washington.

Phoenix 86, Seattle 66

At the conclusion of the second game in this best-of-five matchup, Phoenix Mercury head coach Sandy Brondello made note of the fact that her team cannot continue to put themselves in the hole if they expect to win the series.

They managed to avoid both digging a hole and playoff elimination when the returned to their home court at Talking Stick Resort Arena and defeated the Seattle Storm 86-66 in front of 15,185 in attendance.

Photos: Bonner: Phoenix Mercury forward DeWanna Bonner scored 28 points to lead all scorers in Friday’s semifinal Game 3. Game 4 is Sunday afternoon in Phoenix. File photo by Chuckarelei/Sportspage Magazine

Prior to the game, the Mercury learned that forward Stephanie Talbot was ruled “out” for a concussion. Head coach Sandy Brondello inserted guard Yvonne Turner into the lineup in her place.

After trading baskets to start the game, the Mercury took off on a 12-2 run, led by five points by forward DeWanna Bonner and four points from center Brittney Griner. With 5:36 left in the first quarter, it appeared that Phoenix was going to run away with it.

Seattle center Natasha Howard scored four points in a 6-0 run before picking up her second foul at the 2:25 mark. The Mercury responded with another 7-0 run to end the first quarter with a 26-16 lead.

Seattle went on an 11-2 run to start the second quarter as forward Sami Whitcomb hit two three-pointers followed by a three-pointer and running layup by guard Jordin Canada. The Storm found them behind by a mere point with 7:01 left in the half and a 28-27 Phoenix lead.

The Storm capped a 15-4 run in the quarter on a short jumper by forward Crystal Langhorne over the outstretched arms of the Mercury’s Griner, which gave the Storm a 31-30 lead, their first of the game.

Not to be outdone, Bonner scored six points as the Mercury went on a 10-0 run and led 42-35 at the half. It was a tough half for the starting point guards. Mercury guard Diana Taurasi and Storm guard Sue Bird were each held scoreless. Bonner had 18 points and 7 rebounds by halftime.

Seattle was clawing their way back when forward Alysha Clark collided with Griner, who set a screen at midcourt with 5:38 remaining in the third quarter. The two players bumped heads during the collision. Though it looked like Griner set a legal screen, referee Roy Gulbeyan called a common foul on Griner. During the review, both players went through a concussion protocol by their respective trainers and went back onto the court a short time after play resumed. The foul was upheld as a common foul. The quarter ended with the Mercury holding onto a 60-56 lead.

The bottom fell out for Seattle in the fourth quarter. The Storm missed their first six shots and Taurasi scored on a layup with 6:30 remaining in the contest for her first points of the night. While Seattle was struggling from the field, Phoenix went on a 14-0 run and outscored the Storm 26-10 in the final frame. When the buzzer sounded, the Mercury took an 86-66 win in Game 3 to force a Game 4 on Sunday.

Bonner led all scorers with 27 points and 11 rebounds, Griner added 21 points and 11 rebounds with Turner contributing for 19 points, seven rebounds and six assists.

“I loved our fight. We said if we wanted to beat Seattle we had to play for 40 minutes, and I think we played a complete game tonight. Yvonne Turner stepped into the starting lineup with Steph out and she was pretty special for us tonight,” said Mercury head coach Sandy Brondello.

“It’s one game. We did what we had to do, which was win on our home court, and it keeps us alive. We’re excited about that, and hopefully we can take care of our home court on Sunday.”

“We had a long video session yesterday. I thought we were good in the games in Seattle, but we weren’t great. We had too many breakdowns through a bit of fatigue and just didn’t finish plays. We didn’t execute the scout at all times. We had really good moments, but then we had ones where we broke down. Seattle is a team where if you don’t execute what you want to do they exploit you on every breakdown. Tonight we were very locked in and that was the difference. This is our season. We knew we were close, we just had to go out and do it for 40 minutes,” she added.

Seattle was led by 19 points and 10 rebounds from Howard with forward Breanna Stewart contributing 15 points and 11 rebounds in the effort. Bird dished out 11 assists but was held scoreless.

“The biggest challenge for us is that some of these are new experiences. You can try and equate it to the regular season but it is just not the same. We are going through a lot of experiences with the team and just having the persistent presence it takes when you go on the road in this kind of environment, is what it takes,” said Storm head coach Dan Hughes. “When I talk to the team tomorrow the team will have a different look at the reality of how tough it will be at this stage in the season. We were playing catchup most of the game and it never quite felt like we were out of it. We would kind of get back in it and they would kind of separate. We never had control of the game, either offensively or defensively. We had some trouble defensively, especially in close-out situations.”

When asked about her performance, Bonner said, “Tonight it was unbelievable for my teammates to come out here in an elimination game and play the way that we did. We got one more, we can’t settle, and we have to be great because that’s a great team that we’re facing. We know they’re going to come back and make some adjustments and we have to as well. We have to be ready.”

Regarding the fourth quarter struggled, Stewart said, “In the fourth quarter today they went on a run and that’s what has happened the past three times, but it’s not so much their run it’s that we don’t have an answer. I don’t think today we had a run the entire game, and to win a game like that is tough.”

The teams will meet again at Talking Stick Resort Arena for Game 4 on Sunday starting at 4 p.m. CT.

DeWanna Bonner had 27 points and 11 rebounds, and the Phoenix Mercury scored the first 14 points of the fourth quarter to beat the Seattle Storm 86-66 on Friday night to force a Game 4 in the WNBA semifinal series.

The Mercury had fallen into big holes and rallied in the fourth quarter, only to come up short the first two games of the series.

Phoenix kept it close in Game 3 at home and made another big run in the fourth quarter to cut Seattle’s lead to 2-1 in a series that heads to Game 4 on Sunday in Phoenix.

The Mercury suffered a blow before the game, learning starting forward Stephanie Talbot would not play due to a concussion. Phoenix also had to play through a difficult night offensively for Diana Taurasi, who had eight points on 3-of-11 shooting.

Brittany Griner had 21 points and 11 rebounds, and Yvonne Turner had 19 points in Talbot’s place to help the Mercury end a 10-game losing streak in WNBA semifinal games.

Natasha Howard had 19 points and 10 rebounds for the Storm. Breanna Stewart added 15 points and 11 rebounds in Seattle’s eighth straight road playoff loss dating to 2011.

Seattle won the first two games with the same score (91-87) and the same formula: Use big runs in the middle two quarters to build double-digit leads, then hold off a late Mercury charges. The Storm turned missed shots and turnovers into transition points during their big runs, were not able to get out on the break when Phoenix rallied.

Phoenix got off to third straight good start in the series, hitting 10 of 21 shots in the first quarter to lead 26-16.

Just like the first two games, the Storm answered with a big run, using a 15-4 stretch to go up 31-30.

This time, the Mercury didn’t wait until the fourth quarter to answer, building the lead back to 42-35 behind Bonner’s 18 points.

GRINER’S BLOCKS

Griner blocked a shot and has 77 in the playoffs during her career, tying Ruth Riley for second on WNBA’s all-time playoff list. She still has a long way to go for the top spot: Lisa Leslie has 132 career playoff blocks.

TIP-INS

Griner and Seattle’s Alysha Clark both fell to the floor holding their heads after a collision midway through the third quarter. Griner was called for an offensive foul and remained in the game. Clark returned a few minutes later. … Jewell Loyd and Sue Bird, Seattle’s second and third-leading scorers, combined for two points on 1-of-18 shooting. Bird did have 11 assists. … Phoenix had 13 assists after averaging 23.3 in the playoffs.

WHAT’S NEXT

Game 4 is Sunday in Phoenix.

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