A game featuring two of the three highest-scoring teams in the WNBA was won by a tenacious, physical and active defense by the Seattle Storm, which finds itself one win away from its first trip to the WNBA Finals since winning it all in 2004.
Holding the Phoenix Mercury to 20 points below its season average, Seattle used a double-double by WNBA most valuable player Lauren Jackson and a nightmarish night by league scoring champ Diana Taurasi to win Game 1 of the Western Conference finals, 82-74, before 9,686 fans at KeyArena on Thursday.
The Storm will try to clinch the best-of-three series in Phoenix at noon Sunday.
It wouldn’t be a huge surprise for the top-seeded Storm to win Sunday. Seattle is 6-0 against the defending WNBA champion Mercury this season, including three wins in Phoenix. And Seattle also will have Jackson, who set a Storm playoff record of 17 rebounds to go with 23 points on a night she received her third league MVP award.
Jackson had 17 of her points in the first half and had a double-double with three minutes to play before halftime.
“It was a tough game,” Jackson said. “Any game with Phoenix is going to be tough. But everyone did something to help us win tonight. We needed everyone to step up and they did and now we need to do it again in a few days.”
Jackson was one of the few bright spots offensively for either team. Both shot 38 percent and combined to start the game 4-for-19. No one had it tougher than Taurasi, the four-time league scoring champion who finished 2-for-15 for nine points before fouling out late in the fourth quarter.
“I couldn’t make a shot,” said Taurasi, who averaged 22.6 points during the season. “I never blame the defense on missing shots. I had some really good looks, which I usually knock down, but tonight they didn’t go down.”
The key to slowing down Taurasi was guard Tanisha Wright, a member of the league’s all-defensive team who helped hound the Phoenix star all night. Wright also came up big on offense. With her team holding a 65-57 lead early in the fourth quarter, Wright, who had yet to score, sank a 3-pointer and followed with a jump shot for a 13-point Storm lead. The Mercury never got closer than seven as Wright scored all of her nine points in the quarter.
“(Taurasi) is a great player and no one can defend her by themselves,” Wright said. “It was a team effort to just make it as tough on her as possible and we were able to do that.”
Despite the slow start, the Storm led 22-7 on a Jackson 3-pointer late in the first quarter. A 13-1 Phoenix run cut the lead to 3 – the closest the Mercury got – but six points from reserve Le’coe Willingham and a Sue Bird 3-pointer made it 41-27 and the Storm led by 14 at the half.
Willingham – who won the WNBA title with Phoenix last year – and Svetlana Abrosimova gave Seattle big nights off the bench. Abrosimova scored 16 points and Willingham had 10 points and six rebounds. Bird added 10 assists.
“It’s a good start for us, but we’re not satisfied with just one win,” Bird said. “We put this behind us and now we focus on the next one.
“We’re glad that we got this first one but that’s not what our focus is. Our focus is bigger than just one game.”