SEATTLE — Sue Bird recognized that look of determination on Diana Taurasi’s face, but she and the top-seeded Storm were helpless to stop the Phoenix star who took over in the fourth quarter.
Taurasi outscored Seattle 14-12 in the period and capped a Mercury comeback from 19 points down with a remarkable three-pointer from the corner with 3.6 seconds left to force overtime Tuesday in Game 2 of the WNBA semifinals.
“I’ve seen her do it many times as her teammate, particularly in Russia,” said Bird, who teamed with Taurasi for two years at University of Connecticut and eight years overseas. “I’ve seen her just single-handedly do exactly what she did in the fourth quarter.
“And in some ways, it’s almost impossible to stop. In other ways, as an opponent you’re just constantly trying to think of ways to stop it. But once she gets into that zone, it’s really difficult.”
After Taurasi’s heroics, Bird had the final say and wove through traffic for a go-ahead layup in the extra period that gave Seattle a hard-fought 91-87 victory over No. 5 Phoenix in front of a sold-out crowd of 9,686 at KeyArena.
“We were disappointed to have been in that situation,” said Bird, who finished with 19 points and six assists. “Emotions can run high. You can be upset and whatnot, but we all just took a moment.
“It was Noelle Quinn who came into the huddle and said, ‘This is the playoffs. It’s not supposed to be easy.’ I think we were all able to reset and understand, OK, let’s go do this.”
The score and result were identical to Game 1.
Once again the Storm built a double-digit lead in the fourth and for the second straight game Phoenix surged late with a furious rally.
In its previous outing, Seattle led by 16 points in the third and saw its lead cut to two before holding on for a 91-87 victory.
This time, the Storm was up 19 points (60-41) in the third quarter before Phoenix rallied and outscored Seattle 28-12 in the fourth to tie the score.
After Taurasi’s three-pointer, the Storm called timeout and had 3.6 seconds for a rebuttal.
But Breanna Stewart missed a midrange jumper and Jewell Loyd’s putback rolled out as time expired in regulation.
“We have to understand all of our work has to match a greater intensity (in the final minutes) because Phoenix is going to dig,” Storm coach Dan Hughes said. “We got to know our strengths. We sometimes didn’t find a way to overcome challenges. But that’s the playoffs.”
Taurasi, who scored a game-high 28 points and sank 4 of 9 three-pointers, made a shot from downtown early in overtime to put Phoenix ahead 85-81.
Loyd countered with four unanswered points to tie it before DeWanna Bonner (21 points) put Phoenix on top again 87-85.
From there, Loyd and Bird took over.
Down 87-86, Bird got free for the layup that gave the Storm the lead for good. Loyd and Bird combined to make three free throws to put Phoenix away.
Seattle received 27 points from league MVP Stewart while rookie guard Jordin Canada had 12 and Natasha Howard 10.
Mercury star center Brittney Griner tallied 23 before fouling out in overtime.
The playoff math is simple now for the Storm, which needs one victory to make its third WNBA Finals appearance.
Game 3 is at 7 p.m. Friday at Talking Stick Resort Arena in Phoenix.
“It’s the playoffs and if you’re going to win a championship, you got to go through the best and Diana is the best,” Bird said. “For us to be able to weather these two games – of course we’re upset we lost the lead – but we weathered and we were able to still get the win against a great player and a really solid team.
“We feel very fortunate to be sitting here up 2-0 and we know it’s not going to be easy in Phoenix.”