BY Todd Dybas 11:40PM 09/15/2011

Dybas: Storm locks up Taurasi to open playoffs

There was no repeat from last week of the Phoenix’s star’s premier performance. But there will be a repeat of the last year’s playoff result.

Tanisha Wright, right, scored a game-high 21 points against DeWanna Bonner and Phoenix Thursday night. / Drew Sellers, Sportspress Northwest

Multi-quarter bullying left Diana Taurasi in a repeat position.

The Phoenix star sat stoically in darkness during the Storm’s opening hoopla in KeyArena Thursday night. She sipped from a Gatorade cup with a towel across her lap. She was calm in the noise around her prior to tip-off.

About 90 minutes later, Taurasi sat in a neighboring bench seat, sipping from a Gatorade cup with a towel across her lap. Calm while the noise around her indicated the season slipping away.
A stickback by Storm forward Le’Coe Willingham pushed the Storm’s lead to 65-42 with a minute left in the third quarter while Taurasi watched. The game was ostensibly over following a 29-11 third quarter which Seattle dominated. The Storm won the playoff opener 80-61, going up 1-0 in the best-of-three Western Conference semifinals.

Taurasi was a menace in the same gym less than a week ago. She scored 28 points in the first half and finished with 36 Friday. Thursday, she scored 11 points on 3-for-11 shooting. She led the league with 21.6 points per game during the regular season.

The referees, coupled with her inferior performance, allowed Taurasi’s fierceness to show. She spent the night using language that would embarrass a sailor; perhaps even Lauren Jackson.

No matter how blue her speech or how meager her jump shot, the crux of the issue for Phoenix lays in a most basic measure: ball retrieval.

The seasoned Storm outrebounded the Mercury 49-35. The disparity was more evident prior to a going-through-the-motions fourth quarter. The Storm boxed around the sun-drenched dandies.

Phoenix’s ability to bang was reduced by the absence of Nakia Sanford. The absence of engagement after halftime that led to a 1-0 Seattle lead reduced the Mercury’s chance of beating a Storm team it can’t seem to figure out.

“It’s similar to the last few times we’ve lost to the Storm,” Phoenix forward Penny Taylor said.

The Storm plan against Taurasi has emerged. Tanisha Wright — splendid with a game-high 21 points — sticks to Taurasi. Help players blitz pick and roll. The Storm allows point guard Temeka Johnson, 2-for-11, backup guard Marie Ferdinand-Harris, 2-for-10, or anyone not named Taurasi to shoot on the weak side.

“When you get to this point, it’s about making open shots,” Taurasi said. “We’ll look at the tape and see a lot of open, missed shots.”

The Storm was little better with a 39.1 shooting percentage. But 20 second-chance points resulted from the superior rebounding.

The expansive third-quarter lead produced a silent victory for the Storm. Lauren Jackson, slowed by left hip surgery June 30, played just 18:59. Storm backup Ashley Robinson played longer. That’s a dual win. Storm head coach Brian Agler said tomorrow is the important day for Jackson’s health. Then, she’ll be ready for game two Saturday in Phoenix.

Fair assumption Taurasi will be, too. In the midst of the third quarter unraveling, Taurasi received a technical foul. This, after Wright was actually called for fouling Taurasi.

Taurasi stood befuddled at the line. She feigned equal amazement and confusion postgame when asked if she received an explanation from the officials about her transgression.

“Asking them a question and getting a response is like me trying to translate you Turkish,” Taurasi said. “It’s impossible.”

That may be the quantifier of the task remaining for Phoenix. The Storm swept the Mercury in last year’s conference finals. It is 11-1 against the Mercury the past two years. The lone loss was by two points this season in Phoenix. Jackson and Wright did not participate.

If Taurasi wants to accomplish something that appears plausible, she needs to call Rosetta Stone. Turkish volumes 1-3 would be a start.


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