By Scott Mammoser
Friday night was billed as one of women’s sports’ greatest showcases. Not only were Venus and Serena Williams facing off in the third round of the US Open, but Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi were meeting in the WNBA Playoffs. Four women who have carried the athletic pedestal in the United States for the past two decades and still at the top of their games in their late thirties. By the end of the night, Serena breezed past her older sister, 6-1, 6-2, Bird was held scoreless, Taurasi didn’t find the bottom of the hoop until the mid-fourth quarter, and Yvonne Turner is the name to know following the Phoenix Mercury’s dominating 86-66 win over the Seattle Storm on Friday.
The Storm leads the best-of-five series, 2-1, with Game Four tipping off at 5 p.m. ET on Sunday. Turner scored a career-high19 points and was seemingly in the right place at all of the right times. Averaging four points per game, Turner also logged a career-best 38 minutes in the start as Stephanie Talbot recovers from a concussion.
“The thing about the WNBA is you always have to stay ready, whether you play one or 40 minutes,” Turner said. “I always make sure that I’m doing what I need to do, knowing what ourschemes are. I know when I need to step up, offensively or defensively, and I did that today for my team. Coach told me don’t over think, and that’s what I did. My biggest strength is defense, and I brought that for my team tonight, and when I was open, they told me to shoot the ball.”
Turner started five games late last season as an unconventional 29-year-old rookie for the Mercury. A former All-Big 12 Defensive player for Nebraska during her 2006-2010 career, she didn’t find her way to the WNBA until after leading the EuroLeague in scoring with 18.8 points per game during the 2016-17 season in Hungary.
“She has played at times like this,” Mercury coach Sandy Brondello said, “but chatting to her last night, we knew she was ready. We’ll need the same thing next game. She’s comfortable and locked in defensively for what we needed to do. It allows us to have another playmaker. Diana didn’t score until the fourth quarter, and Vonny did what we needed from her.”
The Mercury opened on a 17-6 run and never let the Storm lead by more than one point – in the second quarter. Phoenix outscored the No. 1 seed, 26-10, in the fourth quarter.
“We were playing catch up most of the game, but we never felt we were out of it,” Storm coach Dan Hughes added. “We never had control of the game, whether offensively or defensively. You play a team like Phoenix where they have three exceptional players, and you try to get one to be average, and then Turner steps up, and that changes the dynamics in that regard. We weren’t quite sure how they would adjust their lineup and what effect that would have.”
Besides Taurasi, who scored all eight of her points in the final six minutes, the other two stars of the ‘Big Three,’ DeWannaBonner (27 points and 11 rebounds) and Brittney Griner (21 and 11), contributed double-doubles on Friday.
“Seeing their technique every day and watching them grow, I am always their biggest fan and cheerleader off the bench,” Turner said of the stars. “Tonight, it was a big win for our team and organization, and for us, it was a single elimination game.”
While Bird did dish a playoff career-high 11 assists, the future Hall of Famer was 0-of-8 from the floor, and All-Star backcourt teammate Jewell Loyd was 1-of-10.
“If you want to win games in the playoffs,” Turner said, “you have to play defense, and Bri (January) and I tonight, did a great job on two of their key players.”
League MVP Breanna Stewart scored 15 with 11 rebounds for Seattle, while Most Improved Player award recipient Natasha Howard recorded 19 and 10.
“Her aggressiveness,” Stewart said of what made Turner so effective on Friday. “A player able to pick up full court like that, she picked up our guards and didn’t allow us to run our full sets.”