Lauren Jackson scores 33 as Storm clinches West's top playoff spot
Seattle wins 91-85 over Phoenix and remains in pursuit of the WNBA's record for most wins (28).
Seattle Times staff reporter
Chicago @ Storm, 7 p.m., KONG
Swin Cash doesn't pore over stats at halftime.
The Storm All-Star typically asks developmental coach Jenny Boucek how many rebounds she has and continues with her preparation for the final half. More than points, rebounds are Cash's pride.
"I didn't even look at her," Cash said of halftime against Phoenix.
Boucek glared, however, knowing the number was zero.
An uncharacteristic Seattle crew faced its largest halftime deficit of the season against the WNBA's most potent team. But after a calm halftime discussion, the Storm promptly went on a 31-7 run, leading to a 91-85 win at KeyArena.
Trailing 61-44 with 6:34 remaining in the third quarter, Cash helped spark an 18-3 run with her rebounding to pull the Storm within two points at the end of the quarter. Seattle took its first lead since the first quarter on a pair of free throws by guard Tanisha Wright with 9:18 remaining in the game.
Phoenix remained close, but guard Sue Bird scored six of her final 16 points in the final 2:38 to help Seattle collect its 12th consecutive win. The victory also secured Seattle the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference playoffs, meaning home court advantage throughout.
It's the first time the Storm (21-2) has won the regular-season Western Conference title.
"Swin is definitely the tone-setter for us when it comes to being aggressive, the dirty work," said Bird. Cash finished with 10 points and six rebounds. "One of her biggest plays was her blocked shot on Kara Braxton — coming out of nowhere was big. It got us in transition and was part of our momentum."
Braxton, a 6-foot-6 center, is a trade acquisition added to the Mercury roster last week. A former champion from Detroit, she played 21 minutes due to teammate Tangela Smith fouling out midway through the fourth quarter.
Phoenix (10-13) had won five of its previous six games.
Braxton made Storm players look like test dummies for the Mercury in the opening half. She teamed with reserve DeWanna Bonner to grab offensive rebounds and deflect shots as Phoenix outscored Seattle 13-4 on fast-break points and 32-22 in the paint.
The 8,044 fans in the building were just as confused as the players on the court. The scoreboard beamed a 56-38 Phoenix lead headed into the break — the most points Seattle has allowed in the opening half this season.
Only two-time MVP Lauren Jackson appeared present, scoring 15 of her season-high-tying 33 points in the opening half.
"Our fans played a big role (in the turnaround)," Cash said of the playoff atmosphere. "In the first half they were sitting around like, 'What is going on?' and we're looking at each other like, 'What is going on?' "
Storm coach Brian Agler said he kept his halftime speech short while the players did a lot of talking, but not much about winning streaks or even adjusting schemes.
"We may have talked about some things for about 15 seconds," Agler said. "The wrong character was showing. ... We were sort of selling each other out. It was a matter of us regrouping and being a little bit embarrassed."
Seattle (21-2) remains in pursuit of the WNBA's record for most wins (28) and Houston's historic 1998 season when it won 25 games before suffering its third loss.
Yet it all nearly dissolved by halftime.
"Sometimes you're the bug, sometimes you're the windshield — my dad's favorite line," Phoenix coach Corey Gaines said.
Jayda Evans: 206-464-2067 or email@example.com
Storm 91, Mercury 85
|Phoenix||25||31||8||21 — 85|
|Seattle||20||18||24||29 — 91|
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