Griner, Mercury rally to beat Storm, force deciding Game 5

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              Phoenix Mercury center Brittney Griner (42) is guarded by Seattle Storm's Sami Whitcomb (33) and Natasha Howard as she tries to drive to the basket during the first half of Game 4 of a WNBA basketball semifinals playoff game, Sunday, Sept. 2, 2018, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ralph Freso)
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PHOENIX (AP) — Four times this postseason, the Phoenix Mercury have faced elimination.

They’ve won all four and now it’s on to Seattle for another one.

Brittney Griner provided the deciding offense and necessary defense in the final seconds as the Mercury beat the Seattle Storm 86-84 on Sunday to force a deciding Game 5 in their WNBA semifinal series.

The 6-foot-9 center scored on a short hook shot with 14.1 seconds to play then prevented Breanna Stewart from getting a shot off before the buzzer as the Mercury rallied from a 17-point deficit to beat the Storm in Phoenix for the second straight time.

The Mercury had to survive single-elimination games against Dallas and Connecticut just to get to the Storm, then fell down 0-2 with a pair of losses in Seattle.

“It’s the team that shows a lot of heart in every single one of these games,” Griner said. “Doing whatever it is, whoever it is at the time. At different points of time different people step up and make big plays, hustle plays. I think that’s what’s giving us that edge right now.”

Griner had 29 points and 12 rebounds and DeWanna Bonner scored 21 of her 27 in the second half.

Game 5 will be Tuesday night in Seattle. Diana Taurasi, who had 16 points, is 13-0 in her WNBA playoff career in winner-take-all games.

The other semifinal series, between Atlanta and Washington, also has gone to a Game 5.

The Storm lost Sue Bird with a broken nose with 4:23 left in the third quarter when she took an accidental elbow to the face from Stewart. Bird, who has broken her nose five times, said she will play in Game 5.

“I think they lost their leader,” Bonner said. “However, for her going out, they still played great basketball. They were still making shots. … They lost a big part of their puzzle but they still played great basketball. They only lost by two points.'”

Stewart, the WNBA’s MVP, led Seattle with 22 points.

Griner’s winning basket came after Bonner missed and Phoenix’s Camille Little grabbed the rebound. Little got the ball to Griner, who scored. The Storm worked the ball to Stewart at the end but she couldn’t get a shot off against Griner’s defense.

“The initial play we wanted to run kind of broke down early,” Stewart said, “and then we were just playing on the fly. Being under the basket with B.G. on you is a tough shot. Still, I should have gotten a shot off just because it was the last play of the game.”

Griner noted she’d fouled Stewart on a 3-point shot a few moments earlier.

“I had to do something to make it up,” she said. “We knew the ball was going to go to into Stewart’s hands and we had to play defense, don’t foul, try not to let her score and tie it up to go to overtime. … I stayed there and kept my hands up high.”

Phoenix trailed by 17 in the first half, 16 early in the second and still was down 69-57 after Stewart sank a 19-footer with 1:27 left in the third quarter. But the Mercury responded with a 13-2 run. Taurasi sank a 3 with 3.6 seconds left to cut the lead to 71-66 entering the fourth quarter and Bonner’s basket sliced the deficit to 71-70 with 8:40 to play.

Griner’s basket tied it at 76-76 and Bonner’s two free throws put Phoenix up 78-76 with 5:29 to play, the Mercury’s first lead since the game’s opening moments.

“They got some real offensive weapons and when they’re playing at a high level and they are very assertive, they’re hard to stop,” Seattle coach Dan Hughes said.

Coach Sandy Brondello said the team got its offense going when she moved Bonner from the “four” to the “three” position.

“She’s been great for us at the four, but I moved her to the three and put the ball in her hands and she got aggressive,” Brondello said.

TIP-INS

Storm: Seattle shot 72 percent in the first quarter (13-of-18), including 3-pointers by four different players. … The Storm has lost consecutive games for the first time this season. … After a franchise postseason record 31 points in the first quarter, the Storm had 31 in the entire second half, including 13 in the fourth,

Mercury: Phoenix is first team to force a Game 5 in a best-of-five format after trailing 0-2. … Taurasi is 50-7 in elimination games including the WNBA, Olympics and NCAA competition. … Mercury have outscored the Storm in the fourth quarter in the series 94-47.

SHE SAID IT: “She’s very picky about her nose. When you have a nose like mine, you don’t (care),” Taurasi said. “When you have a face like Sue, I would worry, too.”

UP NEXT

The teams meet Tuesday night in the deciding Game 5.