PHOENIX – The Phoenix Mercury lost a starter before the ball went in the air. Their best player struggled to get her shots to fall, their opponent went on another big run.
DeWanna Bonner, with a big boost from Yvonne Turner, kept their season going.
Taking over the offensive lead, Bonner had 27 points and 11 points to help the Mercury to an 86-66 win over the Seattle Storm on Friday night to force a Game 4 in the WNBA semifinal series.
“This was our season,” Mercury coach Sandy Brondello said. “We knew we were close there (Seattle) and needed to go out and do it for 40 minutes.”
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.
The Mercury got off to another good start and had a big rally in the fourth quarter, just like the series’ first two games. This time, Phoenix kept it close in the middle quarters before reeling off the first 14 points of the fourth quarter, cutting Seattle’s lead to 2-1 in a series that heads to Game 4 on Sunday in Phoenix.
Brittney Griner had 21 points and 11 rebounds for the Mercury. Turner was superb in Talbot’s place, finishing with 19 points, seven rebounds, six assists and three steals to help Phoenix end a 10-game losing streak in WNBA semifinal games.
“I always make sure I’m doing what I need to do, knowing what our schemes are and when I need to step up, I have to step up,” Turner said. “I was able to do that tonight.”
The Storm struggled in the fourth quarter for the third straight game. Unlike the first two games, Seattle did not have a big cushion to fall back on, extending its playoff road losing streak to eight straight games, dating to 2011.
Natasha Howard had 19 points and 10 rebounds for the Storm. Breanna Stewart added 15 points and 11 rebounds.
“We were playing catch-up most the game, but never could quite get back in it,” Storm coach Larry Hughes said. “We’d kind of get back in, kind of separate, kind of get back in, but never really had control of the game.”
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 at halftime behind Bonner’s 18 points.
Taurasi wasn’t the only player who struggled. 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.
“If Sue and Jewell have space, they’re good players,” Hughes said. “We’ll spend a little time doing that.”
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.
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. …… Phoenix had 13 assists after averaging 23.3 in the playoffs. … Seattle averaged 17.2 free throws per game this season, making 13.9. The Storm had five attempts Friday night, making three. “I don’t have a mental image of us getting one shooting foul all night,” Hughes said.
Game 4 is Sunday in Phoenix.
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