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Phoenix grabs last playoff spot; quiets the Storm

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As the regular season is winding down, a key focus for all playoff bound teams is to find their teams’ momentum and carry it over into the post season. Tonight, the Mercury found theirs, as they shared the ball extremely well and ended the red hot Seattle Storm’s winning streak.

Brittney Griner, Phoenix Mercury Chris Poss - Swish Appeal

Phoenix, AZ — The Phoenix Mercury and Seattle Storm are both playoff bound – but they’re heading into the playoffs on two different notes.

Since the Olympic break, the Storm have had the best record in the league at 6-2 heading into tonight’s game. On the other hand, the Mercury have struggled, losing their last four of five, and are in search of momentum if they want to make a run in the playoffs.

Momentum is exactly what they had in the first quarter. After starting 0-4, they took an early lead that would only get bigger. Brittney Griner and Penny Taylor, who played in her last regular season home game for the Mercury, both led Phoenix with six points in the quarter leading them to a 28-12 lead. Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis led the Storm with six points as well, but as a whole, they struggled to get anything going in the first quarter.

Griner became the first to reach double figures, thanks to some good rebounding and assists on behalf of her and her teammates. Seattle came in as the top assist team since the break, but it was the unselfish play of Phoenix that dazzled in the first half.

Seattle made a few runs, but their hole was deep. With 10 seconds left in the half, Diana Taurasi sunk a three to bring Phoenix’s lead to 24, their biggest lead of the game to that point. However, it was then Alysha Clark’s turn, who threw up a desperation three with 0.5 seconds left in the half that went in.

The Mercury took a 50-29 lead into the half and had eight different players get on the board in the half. They shot 57% from the field, while the Storm struggled shooting only 33%.

After winning their first quarter of the night 21-17, the Storm kept their efforts high, but Phoenix maintained a healthy double-digit lead throughout the first three-quarters. The stars sure showed up for this one, though.

Heading into the fourth, Griner led the Mercury with 21 points and four rebounds while Breanna Stewart led the Storm with 14 points and nine rebounds. However, Jewell Lloyd, the Storm’s second-leading scorer who scored over 30 points in the teams’ first two matchups, was held to only eight points through the first three-quarters.

With a little over four minutes left in the final quarter, most of the starters headed to the bench. With both teams making the playoffs, both coaches wanted to give players a rest while not hurting their team chemistry – a key component to success in this league.

“All these games are big,” said Storm Head Coach, Jenny Boucek.

“It’s all about habits, it’s all about mentality, it’s all about momentum. We really let one go tonight. It’s not about the win or the loss, it’s about how we need to play to have success in this league.”

With three minutes left, Taylor left the floor for the final time in a regular-season home game as chants of “Penny” filled Talking Stick Resort Arena. Taylor is currently third in franchise history in points, second in steals, second in assists, second in three-point field goals, second in games started, and fourth in rebounds. She will be missed.

“Penny in my mind is one of the more underrated players,” said Storm guard Sue Bird.

“It’s sad in some ways to have a player of her caliber retire, but for her, I know she’s excited about the next chapter of her life.”

Taylor’s teammate Mistie Bass also had high words of praise for the retiring forward, “Penny is one of those consistent, level headed people. She’s never too high on the ups and never too low on the downs. She’s always very positive yet humble… She’s a joy to be around. She always gives 100 percent… She’s just been a great teammate.”

The Mercury took the lead early -- and never let it go. They beat the Storm in their final home game of the season 86-62. Seattle finished with four players in double digits, while Phoenix finished with three – though their ball distribution helped nine different players see scoring action in the game.

Griner and Stewart finished as their team’s leading scorers as the Storm head home to take on the Sky in their final regular season game, while the Mercury head to San Antonio to take on the Stars. Both games will be held on Sunday, as the regular season wraps up and all focus will turn to the playoffs.