Phoenix Mercury rallies past struggling Storm
Lauren Jackson is close to returning for the Storm.
Seattle Times staff reporter
New York @ Seattle, 7 p.m.
PHOENIX — The Storm played with mixed emotions.
On one side of the locker room was three-time MVP Lauren Jackson, in uniform for the first time since June 21, nearing a return from left hip surgery. On the other side was an empty space where guard Tanisha Wright would have had her locker during Tuesday night's 81-79 loss to the Phoenix.
Instead, Wright was with family back east to mourn the loss of her mother. Wright was told Friday of her passing but felt obligated to play in Saturday's loss to Atlanta. She flew east afterward and when she will return is uncertain.
Seattle, which has seemingly dealt with every kind of obstacle possible this season, carried on, but saw a 15-point lead slip away. It was the Mercury's first win against the Storm since September 2009, ending a nine-game losing streak to Seattle.
"It stings right now," Storm guard Sue Bird said. "We're very sad for her (Tanisha). It's something in life that's very difficult to deal with, but I know T would have been proud with the way we played and it's unfortunate we couldn't get a win for her."
Wright watched the game online, sending text messages of encouragement afterward. Especially since a similar trend vexed Seattle again — turnovers.
With the score tied at 79, Bird said she made a bad read on a handoff to veteran Katie Smith. Mercury All-Star Diana Taurasi made a steal and raced downcourt for the game-winning layin with 6.3 seconds left in the game.
"They made some good plays," said Storm coach Brian Agler of the Mercury's defense. Taurasi finished with a game-high 24 points.
Seattle dominated the matchup until the final quarter. Bird, who finished with a team-high 23 points, scored the game's opening seven as Seattle quickly built a 14-point lead in the first quarter. Phoenix's 13 first-quarter points were a season low.
After Phoenix trailed 43-28 at halftime, it opened the second half on a 14-4 run to pull to 47-42 with 4:28 remaining in the third quarter. Bird helped her team counter with three consecutive assists to put Seattle up 54-42.
Phoenix (14-10) rallied again in the final quarter, using strong interior play to tie the score at 67 with 5:28 left. The Mercury took its first lead (74-72) after a pair of Taurasi free throws with 3:28 remaining.
"We had some breakdowns," said Willingham, whose team is 13-2 when leading after the third quarter. "And they started recognizing what we were doing. It's definitely tough because everything right now is so important in this race to the playoffs. ... You're playing playoff games to get into the playoffs."
The fourth-place Storm (13-12) lost its third consecutive road game and fourth in its past five overall. Positive news for Seattle may be the return of Jackson, who participated in warmups for the first time since June when she suffered the labrum tear. She expects to be cleared to play within a week.
"There's going to be an adjustment period because they've had to play so long without me," said Jackson, whose team is 9-10 in her absence. "The core of us has been playing together the last four or five years, so I'm not too concerned about it. There will be some growing pains, but I don't think it's going to last more than a couple of games, honestly."
Mercury 81, Storm 79
|Seattle||21||22||16||20 — 79|
|Phoenix||13||15||22||31 — 81|
Jayda Evans: 206-464-2067 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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