Professional Basketball

Storm, Dream Win Semifinal Second Games

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The Seattle Storm fended off a late charge by the Phoenix Mercury to win Game 2 in overtime and take a 2-0 WNBA semifinal series lead, while the Atlanta Dream won their series second game and to tie the series with the Washington Mystics.

Atlanta Dream 78, Washington Mystics 75

Atlanta Dream guard Alex Bentley scored 22 points off the bench enabling the Dream to close out a 78-75 win against the Washington Mystics in front of an announced crowd of 3,813 at Atlanta’s McCamish Pavilion on Tuesday night.

The Dream took an early first quarter lead which soon evaporated when the Mystics went on a 10-2 run in the last four minutes of the quarter to pull within one point, 17-16.

The Atlanta Dream tied the best-of-five WNBA semifinal series with a 78-75 win over the Washington Mystics on Tuesday. Game 3 will be held Friday night in Washington. File photo by Abe Booker III/Sports Page Magazine

In the second quarter, the Dream continued to fend off the visiting Mystics until forward Elena Delle Donne attacked for a layup with 2:51 remaining in the half. Instead of completing the layup, she settled for a short jumper which gave the Mystics a 29-28 edge and their first lead of the night. The Mystics led 36-34 at halftime.

Washington pulled ahead with a sizeable lead in the third quarter thanks to strong perimeter shooting. Guard Kristi Toliver hit on an early three-pointer and then Delle Donne hit one on their next possession. With 4:57 remaining in the quarter, Delle Donne hit her third three-pointer in the quarter giving the Mystics a 50-44 lead. The Dream clamped down on defense and then used a 12-2 run to close out the third quarter with a 58-58 tie. Forward Jessica Breland recorded six of her seven blocks by the end of the quarter.

Both teams traded baskets repeatedly in the fourth quarter as two points was the largest margin for either team though most of the quarter.

Then with 3:07 left in regulation, Delle Donne’s left foot slid on the court while driving for a layup and her left knee buckled inward. She was assisted off the court.

Washington guard Kristi Toliver also slipped on the court with 35.6 seconds left and the Dream leading by two. Toliver was able to continue playing.

With 22.8 seconds remaining, Bentley pushed Toliver while they were going for a loose ball around half court and was called for the foul. Toliver missed the first free throw but connected on the second giving the Dream a 76-75 lead.

Dream guard Tiffany Hayes was fouled on an inbound pass and also went 1-for-2 from the line to give the Dream a two point advantage with 20.6 second remaining. Then Bentley stole the ball

and was fouled by Toliver with 14.9 seconds left. She also only went 1-for-2 from the charity stripe pushing the Dream lead to three.

The Mystics had one final chance to tie or take the lead but Toliver missed a fade away three-pointer as time expired giving the Dream the 78-75 win and tying the series 1-1.

“It was a war of attrition in the fourth quarter. They made more plays than we did. Obviously losing Elena [Delle Donne] didn’t help,” said Mystics head coach Mike Thibault. “We kept defending. I thought we battled. One difference in keeping them in the game, their offensive rebounding hurt us on second shots. It’s a long series so we get a chance to go home on Friday and make up for it.”

The Mystics were led by 27 points and 14 rebounds and six assists from Delle Donne. Guard Natasha Cloud also dished six assists.

“I think we forced a lot of turnovers on the defensive end. We can be disruptive for them,” said Cloud. “They are a high energy team. When they get into a game where they’re in transition and we’re wasting offensive possessions, it’s hard to stop them.”

Dream coach Nikki Collen was named the league’s coach of the year prior to the game.

“We made up our mind that this is a team that has been built from a defensive platform. That we’ve been good when we’ve kept up the matchups we like and battle at the point of attack. We just wanted to stay with who we are. It’s all about being us,” said Collen. “This team knows how to close out games and we can usually make our free throws down the stretch. We made just enough tonight.”

The Dream was led by Bentley’s 22 points, Hayes added 17 points and six assists, while Breland pitched in for 10 points and led the team in rebounding with 14 to go along with her seven blocks.

“My teammates react a lot to me blocking shots and my defense. I knew that if I stepped up my defense then my teammates will follow,” said Breland.

The third game of the semifinals series will tip off at George Washington University’s Charles Smith Center at 7 p.m. CT on Friday. The big question mark will be the status of Delle Donne.

“I wouldn’t count her out,” said Collen. “She seemed to be walking around just fine after the game. We will adjust accordingly but we are going to prepare as if she is going to play.”

Seattle Storm 91, Phoenix Mercury 87

The Seattle Storm needed an overtime period in order to notch their second win in the best-of-five series against the Phoenix Mercury in front of an announced crowd of 9,686 at KeyArena.

Despite Seattle just shooting 29 percent in the first quarter, they managed to stay close to the Mercury ending the quarter with a one point deficit, 18-17.

Seattle Storm guard Sue Bird scored 19 points and dished six assists as the Storm withstood a late Phoenix Mercury charge and overtime during Tuesday’s WNBA Semifinal Game 2. The series moves to Phoenix for Game 3 on Friday night. Photo by Chuckarelei/Sports Page Magazine.

Guard Jordin Canada helped the Storm dominate the second quarter by scoring seven of her 10 first half points in the frame, as Seattle took a commanding 44-32 lead at the half. The Storm went 5-for-13 from beyond the arc during the first half while Phoenix didn’t hit a single three-point shot in eight attempts.

Phoenix couldn’t seem to get it together in the third quarter as the Storm lead grew to as large as 19 points when forward Breanna Stewart hit two free throws with 5:02 remaining in the quarter. When the period ended, Seattle still maintained a 16 point advantage as they began the fourth quarter with a 67-51 lead.

Midway through the fourth quarter, Phoenix fought their way back into contention starting with two free throws made by guard Diana Taurasi with 6:23 left to go. This was promptly answered by a layup by Mercury forward Crystal Langhorne to make the score 73-56. For the next four minutes, Phoenix chipped away at the deficit by going on a 12-2 run that was broken by a short range jumper by Storm center Natasha Howard at the 2:09 mark. Five separate Phoenix players scored during the run and only center Brittney Griner scored more than once. The score was now 75-66 and the momentum was clearly moving in the Mercury’s favor.

Taurasi and Stewart traded baskets and then Taurasi connected on the Mercury’s first three-point field goal after missing their first 14 attempts. With 1:36 remaining in regulation, Seattle still led 77-71.

The Storm had difficulty executing on their next possession as forward Alysha Clark, guard Jewell Loyd and Howard all missed shots.

Griner hit a turnaround jumper with 52.9 second remaining to cut the deficit to four, 77-73, but then fouled Howard with 31.7 second left. Howard converted both free throws to extend the Seattle lead back up to six.

But leave it up to Taurasi to will her team to the finish line. She hit two three pointers within the last 30 seconds in order to tie the game 79-79 with only 3.6 seconds left in regulation. She scored 14 points in the fourth quarter alone.

Just 24 seconds into the overtime, forward DeWanna Bonner hit a three-pointer to give Phoenix their first lead since early in the second quarter, and was answered immediately by a jumper from Stewart to give Phoenix an 82-81 lead.

Loyd cut through the open lane with 3:53 remaining in overtime and was fouled by Griner. It was the Phoenix center’s sixth foul forcing her to watch the rest of the game from the bench.

Taurasi hit a deep three-ball with 3:21 on the clock, but was answered by two free throws and a layup by Loyd to tie the game 85-85. A quick jumper by Bonner gave the two-point lead back to Phoenix. It would be Phoenix’s final point of the night.

Perhaps the most crucial play of the night for the Storm came when Howard recorded two blocks against Mercury center Angel Robinson with 1:51 left. The second block forced a Phoenix shot clock violation.

During the 91 seconds of play, Loyd was fouled twice and converted two of her four free throw attempts, and guard Sue Bird hit an open lane layup.

With just four seconds left Stewart and Little were tied up for a jump ball. Bird was fouled and converted both free throws giving the Storm a 91-87 advantage with just 2.1 seconds left.

Pressing her luck one last time, Taurasi attempted a three-pointer while drawing contact with Stewart as time expired trying to get a basket and a foul for a four-point play. The shot didn’t fall and the official didn’t call a foul giving the Storm a 2-0 advantage in the best-of-five series.

“Luckily, I think we had something in the overtime that a lot of teams wouldn’t have had. When you lose a lead like that, that’s a shock to your system,” said Seattle head coach Dan Hughes. “Phoenix can really score, and I’m watching some of the action, and they are scoring in tough plays. But for a team to lose the lead, go into overtime, and regenerate what we had to do, you got to applaud that. That was not easy.”

Phoenix head coach Sandy Brondello was happy with her team’s comeback but disappointed that they fell into such a deep hole to begin with.

“We dug ourselves a big hole again. We were very resilient getting back into the game and finally made some three-point shots. It took us until the last 20 seconds at the end to make them, but it’s a game that we should’ve won,” said Brondello. “We started off well and then it kind of all went downhill from there. We just kept breaking down. With the speed, we’re our own worst enemy at times with the turnovers – silly turnovers that lead to easy baskets.”

Stewart led the Storm with 27 points, Bird chipped in with 19 poitns and six assists and Langhorne led the team with 10 rebounds.

“They say that in playoff basketball you have to be able to execute. I think that in both games when Phoenix has made those runs at us, we have just relaxed a little bit. I think that what we do well offensively is move, we share the ball, we are constantly cutting, we have five threats at all times, that is where our strength lies,” said Bird. “We can’t let how the other team is doing dictate how we play.”

Taurasi led all scorers with 28 points, Griner added 23 points and 10 rebounds, and Bonner pitched in for 21 points and nine rebounds.

“Perfect. Whenever you make it, you can say it went well. We haven’t been great late game all year so it felt good to execute those two plays and give us a chance in overtime,” said Taurasi about her two three-pointers in the last 30 seconds of regulation. “That’s a credit to Sandy [Brondello]. She puts a lot of hard work into those late-game situations.”

The series now moves to Talking Stick Resort Arena in Phoenix for Game 3 starting at 9 p.m. CT on Friday.

 

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