The Phoenix Mercury defeated the Seattle Storm for the 9th consecutive time Wednesday night by a final of 83-66 in front of 8,906 fans at the US Airways Center.
The first quarter would see the Mercury attempt to make quick work of a Seattle team that was less than 24 hours removed from a come from behind win over LA, and was missing All-Star Sue Bird who sat out in order to rest her 34-year-old body on the second night of a back to back.
"We have four games in six nights right now so we’re just trying to be mindful her and her stage and career." Explained Storm head coach Jenny Boucek on why Bird was not suited up. "We need to keep her fresh and playing at a high level.”
Phoenix would score the first six points of the night and go up 11-2 before the Storm managed to find their groove. Jewell Loyd's constant attacking of the paint combined with the excellent footwork of Crystal Langhorne left Brittany Griner with two early fouls.
Without their dominant shot-blocking force on the floor, Phoenix saw Seattle play them even for the final 7:00 of the first quarter. Even so, the Mercury took a 26-17 lead into the second frame.
Phoenix would manage to score 26 again in the second period, but this time Seattle answered with 25 of their own. The Storm were led by the lights out shooting of Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, who, just as in the game the night before in LA, scored 12 points in the second quarter.
Her points coming on a combination of silky smooth crossovers and drives to the basket as well as contested threes. For the quarter, the third overall pick would hit 5-6 attempts from the floor and 2-3 from downtown.
“I’ve been saying to people for months now- she’s been making great progress behind the scenes." Boucek commented on osqueda-Lewis' recent successes. "Just because people weren’t seeing it in the games didn’t mean it wasn’t happening. She’s been working extremely hard to get ready and play in this league. Now she’s ready. You’re seeing the fruit of all of her labor.”
Despite Mosqueda-Lewis' incredible offensive performance, Seattle's inability to rebound allowed the Mercury to answer every basket and build 52-42 halftime advantage.
The third quarter might have been one of the worst in the history of professional basketball, the two teams combined to score just 13 points over the entire period, with the Mercury edging the Storm 8-5 in the quarter.
The fourth began with the Mercury leading 60-47, and their lead would remain nearly unchanged throughout the final quarter. Seattle did attempt to mount a run early and remained within a 10 points of Phoenix until the final 4:19 when the Mercury snuffed out any hope of a comeback by building their advantage to as many as 17 before the final buzzer sounded.
“We did what we needed to do" Said Mercury coach Sandy Brondello after the win. "Obviously without Sue (Bird) and coming off back-to-back, they had a great win last night in LA, we just needed to take care of our business. It worked out well, we didn’t want to overplay anyone and it was good to get some confidence with our bench because going forward, you’re going to need all 11 healthy players that we have.”
Four players reached double figures for Phoenix, led by the 13 points and five assists of former Storm player Noelle Quinn. Cayla Francis and DeWanna Bonner added 11 apiece with Bonner also contributing six rebounds. Candace Dupree finished with 10 points and Mistie Bass came a single point shy of a double-double, pulling down a game-high 10 rebounds to go along with nine points in the victory.
Ramu Tokashiki and Mosqueda-Lewis each finished with 14 for the Storm while Langhorne pulled down a team-high seven rebounds and scored seven points in the losing effort.
With the win, the Mercury gain ground on the Western Conference-leading Minnesota Lynx in the race for the first seed in the playoffs.
For Seattle, the loss marks the end of a seemingly endless road trip. The Storm will play eight of their remaining 10 games at Key Arena after playing their last six games away from home.