SEATTLE -- The Seattle Storm could have been Diana Taurasi's latest victim. After the legendary Phoenix Mercury guard hit back-to-back 3-pointers in the final seconds to tie the score, the last with 3.6 seconds left, the Storm could have felt defeated going into overtime Tuesday night at KeyArena.
Instead, they wiped the slate clean heading into the extra session. There, Sue Bird's layup with 1:03 left gave Seattle the lead for good. The Storm held the Mercury scoreless the rest of the way to win 91-87 and take a 2-0 lead in their best-of-five semifinal series.
After the game, Bird credited veteran reserve Noelle Quinn -- who has yet to play in the playoffs -- with helping the Storm regroup between the end of regulation and the start of overtime after losing a lead as large as 19 points.
"It was actually Noelle Quinn who came into the huddle and said, 'This is the playoffs. This is not supposed to be easy,'" Bird recalled. "I think we were all able to reset after she said that and say, 'OK, let's go do this.'"
Seattle did just that, though overtime wasn't easy either. Phoenix led most of the extra session before Bird got all the way to the basket for a rare layup to give the Storm a one-point advantage. Seattle got stops on the next two possessions but didn't seal the game until Bird secured a jump ball on an offensive rebound and was fouled with 2.1 seconds left, hitting both free throws to provide the final four-point margin.
Much like Game 1, when the Storm saw a 16-point lead cut down to two in the final two minutes, the home team appeared poised for a more comfortable victory early in the second half. Getting a lift off the bench from rookie Jordin Canada, whose 12 points were one shy of her career high, Seattle opened up a 12-point lead at halftime and extended it to 19 by midway through the third quarter.
The Storm's advantage was still 17 with 6:11 left, when the Mercury finally caught fire after missing their first 14 3-point attempts, one shy of the WNBA record for most consecutive missed 3s to start a playoff game, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. A 10-0 run got Phoenix to within seven points at the three-minute mark, close enough for Taurasi to work her usual magic.
Taurasi scored 11 points in the last two minutes of regulation, including three 3-pointers in the span. The last two erased a six-point deficit with 30 seconds left, with the tying 3 coming over two defenders while fading out of bounds from the left corner. Bird wasn't surprised.
"I've seen her do it many times as her teammate, particularly in Russia," Bird said. "I've seen her single-handedly do exactly what she did in the fourth quarter. In some ways, it's almost impossible to stop. In other ways, as an opponent, you're constantly trying to think of ways to stop it. But when she gets in that zone, it's really difficult."
As in Game 1, Seattle aided the Phoenix comeback with stagnant offense, shooting 5-of-17 (29.4 percent) in the fourth quarter -- a slight improvement on the Storm's 5-of-19 shooting (26.3 percent) in the final period of Game 1.
"I think both games, when Phoenix has made those little runs at us, we've just relaxed a little bit," Bird said. "Part of what we do well offensively is move. We share the ball, we move, we're constantly cutting. We have five threats at all times. That's where our strength lies. I think when we relax, we end up standing. And when we stand, it's much harder for us to execute what we want to do and it's harder to get the shots we want."
During overtime, the Storm got back to that style of play. It didn't hurt that Brittney Griner, whose pair of blocked shots undersold her impact around the basket on defense, fouled out barely a minute into overtime after scoring 23 points and grabbing 10 rebounds in 35 minutes.
Still, Storm coach Dan Hughes was proud of how his players regrouped.
"You lose a lead like that, that's a shock to your system," Hughes said. "For a team to lose the lead, go into overtime and then regenerate what we had to do, you've got to applaud that because that is not easy."
In the visiting locker room, there was frustration that neither of the Mercury's fourth-quarter comebacks translated into the road win Phoenix will need to upset the top-seeded Storm.
"Very, very disappointed," Mercury coach Sandy Brondello said. "We dug ourselves a big hole again. We were very resilient getting back into the game and finally made some 3-point shots. It took us until the last 20 seconds at the end to make them, but it's a game that we should've won."
Had overtime gone differently, Phoenix could have returned home with a chance to knock out Seattle. Instead, the Mercury now need to win both games on their home floor just to force a deciding Game 5 back at KeyArena. Such was the impact of the Storm's resilience in overtime.
"As bad as I feel about the fact that they got back in the game," Hughes said, "the fact that we could win it was pretty special."