Taurasi, Griner help Mercury eliminate defending champion Storm in OT

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Brittney Griner scored 23 points and grabbed 16 rebounds and Diana Taurasi scored six points in overtime as the Phoenix Mercury beat the Seattle Storm 85-80 in the second-round, single elimination WNBA playoff game on Sunday.

Taurasi, a game-time decision after missing the last five games with a left ankle injury, hit a tying 3-pointer, a step-back jumper and a late free throw as Phoenix took over down the stretch.

The fifth-seeded Mercury open the best-of-five semifinal series at top-seeded Connecticut or No. 2 Las Vegas on Tuesday.

Fourth-seeded Seattle, playing without top scorer Breanna Stewart, opened the overtime with a Katie Lou Samuelson 3-pointer for a 76-73 lead. But from there the Storm struggled, making just 2 of 11 the rest of the way.

The game was tied at 78 when Taurasi, with a big brace on her ankle, hit from the left baseline to put Phoenix ahead for good with 2:14 to play. She grimaced in pain going back on defense.

“You always want to play, you want to help your team,” Taurasi said. “Both teams have battled all year. The ball went our way a little bit more tonight. You know how good Seattle is. Every time we come up here we get our (butt) kicked. We found a way to steal a few possessions and win.”

Skylar Diggins-Smith scored 20 points for Phoenix. Taurasi had 14 points, Brianna Turner also had a double=double with 12 points and 12 rebounds and Kia Nurse 12 points, including two free throws to close out the scoring with 15.8 seconds to play.

Samuelson led Seattle, the defending champions, with 18 points and Sue Bird, Taurasi’s teammate at UConn and on five Olympic gold medal teams, scored 16.

“Trying to be Willis Reed over here,” Bird said about Taurasi before the two exchanged jerseys. “No one on my team understood that reference. Maybe that’s a sign. These fans are going to make me cry in about two seconds.”

The Storm crowd started chanting “one more year” as the 40-year-old four-time champion covered her face. Bird said she’ll take time to figure out whether she’ll continue playing next season.

Seattle beat Phoenix 94-85 10 days earlier, when Jewell Loyd matched a WNBA record with 22 points in the first quarter and finished with a career-high 37. This time the Mercury jumped out to a 12-point lead before the Storm closed the half with a 15-0 run to lead 35-32 at the half. It stayed close from there but Loyd 15 points, made just 5 of 24 shots.