The duality of a veteran choke job is always surprising.
The experienced do not relinquish a 1-0 lead in a best-of-three series. Do not surrender and 18-point advantage in the deciding game. Do not wilt against a team it dominated for two years.
But such was the case for the always achieving Seattle Storm. The WNBAs defending champions were jettisoned into the offseason Monday night in KeyArena by a 77-75 loss to Phoenix in the Western Conference semifinals.
Though labeled a semifinal, this is the first round. And the Storm blows out during it for the sixth time in the last seven seasons. Otherwise, it wins the WNBA championship as it did in 2004 and 2010. Its an all-or-nothing prospect Richie Sexson scoffs at.
The Mercury won Monday at KeyArena for the first time since Sept. 10, 2009, a stretch of four regular-season and three playoff games.
Game 1 in Seattle the Mercury was a punching dummy during the Storms 80-61. Feet up for four days and playing at home for the previous week, the Storm pounded away in that opener. But the quick turnaround of a playoff series crept up on it.
Game 2 was just two nights later, the WNBA eschewing the gentlemens preferred practice of a millennium between playoff games.
Game 3, just two nights after that. The aging Storm and resurgent Mercury were swiftly on the same clock.
It showed Monday. The Storm gasped into halftime and wheezed through the fourth quarter.
We both flew back at the same time, so it was to our advantage, Phoenix coach Corey Gaines said. We kept pushing. They were kind of tired at the end.
The Storm was 6-8 this season with one day of rest between games. Phoenix was 10-3.
Seattle was also troubled a crafty shift to zone from Phoenix. The Mercury mixed its rover zone with a 2-3 hybrid it had barely played all season. It was key Monday.
When they went zone, it kind of got our offense a little stagnant, Sue Bird said. From there, they were able to cut into the lead.
The Storm attempted to throw away its cane and make a go of it in the fourth. Lauren Jackson — mostly a statue of her former self following Aug. 20 hip surgery — canned a tying 3-pointer with 1:38 remaining. Bird made a 17-footer with 14 seconds left to tie it again.
But exquisite Phoenix forward Candace Dupree dropped in the winning bucket with 1.9 seconds remaining. Dupree ended up with the ball following a scramble underneath. The weary Storm could not win the final fight.
This was Birds 10th season. Same with Swin Cash. It was the oft-injured Jacksons 11th. The 13th for Katie Smith.
Smith, who was signed this year, is the all-time leading scorer in womens professional basketball. She also went 0-for-17 during two home playoff games.
Jackson, Cash and Little are under contract for next season. The rest could leave. Though its doubtful darling Bird will.
Prior to negotiations, the Storm can tag Bird as its core player, a designation similar to the NFLs franchise tag. Its likely this move will be discussed with Bird before she skips town for her life of offseason adventure.
Jackson will miss the first two months of next season to train with the Australian Olympic team for the 2012 summer games. Most time will be spent growing accustomed to the adult onesie female Australian Olympians wear.
The Storm has just one key player with less than six years in the league. Thats Camillie Little, who just completed her fifth season.
We went through a very difficult and demanding season,” Storm coach Brian Agler said. “We probably showed as much character, maybe even more character than we did a year ago with the difficulties we went through with regards to injuries and personal issues to players and inconsistent play.”
His club was ousted by the Mercurys younger characters, led by foul-mouthed manic Diana Taurasi.
Nuns would have to fell Redwoods in order to produce enough rulers to deter Taurasis tongue. Following the sixth foul call against her Monday night, Taurasi departed while spewing expletives.
Phoenix led by a point with 6:38 remaining when she put butt to bench. Tanisha Wright — the Storms best player in this series — went to the free-throw line following a technical foul on Taurasi. Wright clanked the shot. The Storm missed 11-of-20 free throws Monday.
The zone, fatigue and missed free throws left Bird again to explain how a team with a returning championship core was among the first leaving the playoffs.
All of the sudden, the buzzer’s going off, and there’s this, ‘Wait a minute’ moment, Bird said. This is one of those things that doesn’t set in until a day, two days later. Right now, it just feels like, ‘We have a game in two days. We must.’
Obviously, we don’t. Like I said, it will set in as the playoffs continue – every time we see a commercial, every time we see a game, it’s a reminder.
A reminder they aged out of this system. Without significant change, next year is unlikely to be different.