Old friends Taurasi, Bird meet as Storm faces Mercury

SEATTLE (AP) — Considering their long history together in the WNBA, Phoenix’s Diana Taurasi and Seattle’s Sue Bird have rarely clashed in the postseason. Eight total games across more than 14 seasons of both being in the league, seems a low number of times for two of the game’s great stars to meet in the postseason.

The UConn alums will add at least three more meetings to the list when the Storm and Mercury meet in the best-of-5 semifinal series beginning on Sunday in Seattle.

Seattle was the class of the WNBA this season, going 26-8 and earning the No. 1 seed for the playoffs. It was the culmination of a rebuild that saw the two-time league champion plummet from being one of the top teams to an also-ran that missed the playoffs in 2014-15. Each of the past two years barely got into the postseason and was eliminated in the first round.

How quick Seattle was able to return to being and elite franchise wasn’t a surprise for Bird, who has been with Seattle since 2002. But it wasn’t something she was counting on either.

“For me personally is a little bit of the icing on the cake is we went into a rebuild not long ago. I don’t think there was any way to predict we would be on the other side this fast, but we are,” Bird said. “For me personally just because I’ve been here the longest, I’ve seen where this franchise was, I see where it went and now where we back are, it feels really gratifying.”

Phoenix was 20-14 in the regular season but advanced to the semifinals by knocking off Dallas and Connecticut in elimination games. Taurasi had 26 points in the win over Dallas and 27 against Connecticut, but just as important has been the emergence of All-Star DeWanna Bonner. Bonner had 29 and 23 points in the first two playoff games.

“Seattle is the No. 1 team in the league. Breanna Stewart has had a fantastic season,” Phoenix coach Sandy Brondello said. “They have a really strong five and good bench that can come in. We haven’t played Seattle with the lineup we have. We know it’s a five-game series. We’ll focus on that first game.”

Here’s what else to know about the semifinal series:

MVP, MVP: The reason Seattle was so good in the regular season was the play of Breanna Stewart. In her third pro season, Stewart averaged 21.8 points, 8.4 rebounds, shot 53 percent from the field and nearly 42 percent on 3-pointers. She was voted the AP’s player of the year.

LATE SURGE: Phoenix getting to this point of the playoffs is a surprised after a midseason swoon. The Mercury went 2-11 over a 13-game stretch in July and early August. The Mercury closed the season with four straight wins and have won six straight overall with the two playoff wins.

REGULAR SEASON: The teams met three times during the regular season, two coming in the first two games of the season back in May. Seattle took two of the three matchups, but only the last one gave the Storm an indication of the Mercury lineup they’ll see in the semifinals with Bonner at power forward.

“I think they were a team that was still trying to figure out their rotations and the way they’re playing now with DeWanna Bonner at the four spot, they’re completely different from how we played them,” Bird said. “So in some ways it’s the same players but a new team and we have to figure out a way to guard them.”

LUCKY 13: The two wins already in the playoffs have improved Taurasi’s career record to 13-0 in winner-take-all games in the WNBA postseason. Seven of those have come on the road, including Thursday’s win at Connecticut.

“The impressive part is the amount of times. It’s not that she’s done it, although you can look at each individual performance and be wowed by it, it’s the amount of times she’s been in those positions and risen to the occasion every single time. That’s what is impressive,” Bird said.