Storm hits stop sign in Phoenix
Seattle Times staff reporter
PHOENIX — Defense.
It was probably the one thing Seattle wasn't expecting from normally up-tempo Phoenix as it tipped off the second half of the season on Tuesday. The Mercury swarmed the Storm like desert heat and evaporated enough scoring opportunities to score an 89-79 win at US Airways Center.
Seattle guard Tanisha Wright was scorched the most, accounting for six of the Storm's 20 turnovers, which the Mercury used to score 26 points and leave the visitors struggling for answers at point guard.
Starting shooting guard Betty Lennox moved over to play the point at times in the second half, and Doneeka Lewis, signed Monday to a seven-day contract, played just 27 seconds before halftime.
The point-guard play only further made the team long for All-Star Sue Bird, who sat on the sideline in street clothes with an irritated look at not being able to help her team beyond encouraging words and direction.
Bird had minor knee surgery on July 6 and expects to be in the starting lineup Friday against Connecticut. The Storm is 4-5 all-time without her in the lineup.
"They gave it to us, they put it on us, that's basically it," said Wright, who has averaged 3.4 turnovers as Bird's replacement. "I don't know what coach [Anne Donovan] has in mind [for me now], but whatever it is, it's not a foreign situation for me. Going back to what it was is normal. It's the same thing I've been doing for the last three years here.
"Obviously I want to be put in a position where I can help the team. But it's going to be a stress release for our team. Maybe we can be a lot calmer while we're out there and not so everywhere, all over the court like we were today."
Storm All-Star Lauren Jackson didn't hide her enthusiasm at Bird's imminent return.
The Australian put on a show with countrywoman Penny Taylor of Phoenix. But without Bird or a suitable backup point guard, Jackson merely joined Lennox as a flashy highlight while Taylor was a glitzy accessory in a fancy lineup.
As Phoenix used an 18-2 run to close the opening quarter with a lead (24-21) it never relinquished, Taylor shot driving layups, jumpers and putbacks. The team used another 19-7 run to open the third quarter to build a 64-45 lead after Phoenix guard Kelly Miller picked off a bad pass by Wright and Taylor converted a three-point play.
"The key for us was the pressure on defense," said Taylor, who finished with a season-high 32 points on 12-for-18 shooting. "Making them take shots that they usually they don't want to take and then getting out and running. We were definitely getting back in transition, which is what we do and maybe they weren't ready for that."
Jackson pieced together her sixth game scoring 30 points or more, 33 on 11-for-18 shooting. Yet Tuesday was also the first time Seattle was unable to win when she scored 30 or more.
The seven-time All-Star also had 11 rebounds for her 11th double-double of the season.
"Our defense killed us," said Jackson, who heralded her team's defensive effort before the All-Star break. "They got rebounds at critical times. We didn't help each other out, and we didn't do anything that we were getting better at before the break.
"I don't know how many turnovers we had, but I'm sure we can eliminate some of those with Sue getting back. I look forward to that."
With the loss, the Storm (11-10) is even with Phoenix (12-9) in the regular-season series and missed an opportunity to secure third place in Western Conference standings.
"I don't know if it's because of the break or whatever the case may be, but we can't have letdowns like this," said Lennox, who scored 22 points.
Jayda Evans: 206-464-2067 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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