Mercury open WNBA playoffs vs. Storm

Diana Taurasi and the Mercury open the WNBA playoffs against the Seattle Storm at ASU's Wells Fargo Arena, due to a scheduling conflict at Talking Stick Resort Arena.
AP

Last season, as the No. 8 seed, the Phoenix Mercury won their first- and second-round, single-elimination playoff games en route to the semifinals.

This year, the Mercury enter the playoffs three spots higher.

Phoenix, which hosts the Seattle Storm on Wednesday evening at Wells Fargo Arena in Tempe, Ariz., jumped into fifth place on Sunday with its 84-70 win over Atlanta and Washington’s loss at Minnesota.

The Mercury and Mystics both finished the regular season 18-16, but Phoenix held the tiebreaker.

“We wanted to finish fifth, that was our goal,” Mercury coach Sandy Brondello told the Arizona Republic after the win. “But we know every game from here forth is hard, just like it was tonight. The first half was a free-throw show, but in the second half we kept it to 27 points. That’s fantastic for us.

“We did a good job executing the (plan), and that’s important for the playoffs. Every possession counts for us.”

Mercury center Britney Griner scored 30 points — the sixth time she reached that plateau this season — and wrapped up the WNBA scoring title. She averaged 21.9 points, two points better than the Storm’s Breanna Stewart.

“Everybody is finding their niche, shooting the ball well,” Griner said. “It’s going good right now for us.”

While Griner called her scoring title “just a number,” her coach had more effusive praise.

“No disrespect to the other players because they’re great,” Brondello said. “I get to see (Griner) day in and day out. Just for me, what she has to do. She carries this team. She’s a playmaker, not just a scorer. We put a lot of emphasis on her and what she does and how she changes things at both ends of the floor.”

To advance, the Storm will have to figure out a way to slow Griner.

Phoenix took two of three games from Seattle this season — interestingly, the home team was 0-3 in the series — and Griner had a combined 54 points in the two wins.

Seattle (15-19), the No. 8 seed, clinched the final postseason spot on Friday when Chicago and Atlanta both lost.

The Storm lost to Washington later that evening but beat Chicago on Sunday, the final day of the WNBA regular season.

Stewart and Jewell Loyd combined for 54 points in the 85-80 win at Chicago.

In an overtime loss to Washington on Friday, Seattle point guard Sue Bird became the WNBA’s all-time assists leader.

“What makes it special is that with an assist there’s two or more people involved, so it’s something that as a point guard I know I take very seriously — and I’m sure a lot of point guards do — about getting your teammates involved and trying to get the ball in the right spots,” Bird said.

If Seattle wins Wednesday, it would play at third-seeded New York on Sunday. Phoenix, with a win, would play at No. 4 Connecticut.

Washington, the sixth seed, hosts No. 7 Dallas on Wednesday in the other first-round matchup.