PHOENIX -- It has been a record-breaking WNBA season full of highlight-reel plays and intense competition. So it figures that both semifinal series are headed to a deciding Game 5.
For Phoenix, that meant becoming the first team in league history to climb back from an 0-2 series start to force a Game 5.
"It's good basketball," Mercury center Brittney Griner said after Phoenix's come-from-behind 86-84 victory Sunday to even its series with Seattle.
Earlier in the day, Elena Delle Donne returned from a knee injury to help Washington extend its series with Atlanta. The Mystics led throughout and dominated the fourth quarter in winning 97-76.
Things were more dramatic in the desert. The Storm set a record for points in a quarter with 31 in the first period. Seattle led by as much as 17 early in the second quarter. But with 4:23 left in that period came a game-changing collision between Seattle point guard Sue Bird's nose and teammate Breanna Stewart's elbow.
It is the fifth time Bird has suffered a broken nose as a pro player. She had a protective mask with her but said her nose wouldn't stop bleeding to allow her to play. She wasn't able to return, finishing with seven points. Bird vowed afterward that she would play in Game 5 on Tuesday at Seattle's KeyArena (ESPNews, 10 p.m. ET).
From the bench, Bird tried to keep the Storm calm as the Mercury, willed on by their raucous crowd, rallied for the largest comeback to force a Game 5 in WNBA playoff history, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
"I think, for the most part, things have a tendency to feel a lot worse than they are, especially on the road," Bird said. "If they go on a 4-0 run, it feels like 24-0. I think we've been taking that a little too hard, and it's been impacting us. And we're doing some things out of character instead of sticking to who we are. I think we got a little rattled at the end."
That's understandable, given that the Storm still rely so much on 16-season veteran Bird to give them confidence on the court. Seattle's young stars, No. 1 picks Stewart and Jewell Loyd, both had played in just two playoff games prior to this year.
"She's one of the greatest point guards ever to play the game," Stewart said. "So, of course, we're going to miss her on the floor. It was a little tough, but we had ourselves in position to win the game."
Yet the Mercury, who owned the fourth quarter in the three previous games of the series, did it again Sunday, outscoring the Storm 20-13. In four games in the series, the Mercury have outscored the Storm 94-47 in the final period.
Then it came down to one big make and one big defensive stop -- both by Griner. With the score tied at 84, the Mercury's DeWanna Bonner, who has been the most effective player on either side throughout this series, missed a shot. But Camille Little out-maneuvered Stewart for the rebound, and she passed it to Griner, who hit a 5-footer to put the Mercury up 86-84.
"It's tough. Stewie is taller than me, and most of the time she's probably going to get that rebound," said Little, a 12-season veteran who won a championship with the Storm in 2010. "I kept thinking, 'I've gotta do something. I've gotta make a play.' Then I saw BG, and she finished it."
On the other end, league MVP Stewart had the ball under the basket with time running out but couldn't get off a shot against Griner, who was guarding her. However, Bonner explained that the Mercury's defense wasn't drawn up that way.
"That was a mess-up," Bonner said, laughing. "But it was the best mess-up ever. We switched too early. That was not the plan, but it worked."
Stewart, who led Seattle with 22 points, lamented, "I should have gotten a shot off because it's the last play of the game."
That it came down to that was a testament to the veteran play of Phoenix, particularly Griner -- whose 29 points were a career high in a playoff game -- Bonner and Diana Taurasi. They were all important pieces of the Mercury's 2014 WNBA championship team. Bonner and Taurasi were part of the 2009 title team, too, and Taurasi led the way when Phoenix won it all in 2007.
"That experience is a huge factor," Bird said. "They have three players who can really dominate a game, and it's tough to go against that."
Bonner finished with 27 points and eight rebounds. She has scored at least 20 points in the Mercury's past nine games. Taurasi had 16 points and four assists, and she puts one of her most amazing stats on the line Tuesday: In winner-take-all games in her WNBA career, Taurasi is 13-0.
To change that, the Storm will need Bird back, and she said she plans to play. But Seattle could also use a big game from Loyd. She had 23 points in the series opener, a 91-87 Storm win. But in the three games since, she has 26 points combined on 7-of-31 shooting from the field (22.5 percent).
The Storm also have to do more to slow the Mercury's big three and keep Phoenix from taking control of the game in the fourth quarter. Seattle coach Dan Hughes said Phoenix has been able to dictate the pace in the last 10 minutes and force things into a half-court offensive battle. And with weapons such as Griner, Bonner and Taurasi, that's a difficult battle to win.
"We protected our house, and that was our goal," Phoenix coach Sandy Brondello said of the Mercury's victories on Friday and Sunday at Talking Stick Resort Arena. "We're just very excited we get to play a fifth game."
"These series, they are a grind because you're seeing the same people, the same plays, and it becomes a mind game. ... The momentum seems to be in their favor, and we're going to have to figure out how to switch that back to us." Sue Bird, whose Storm hadn't lost back-to-back games all season
The Storm hadn't lost back-to-back games all season until this weekend.
"These series, they are a grind because you're seeing the same people, the same plays, and it becomes a mind game," Bird said. "We were up 2-0, then 2-1. Now it's tied. The momentum seems to be in their favor, and we're going to have to figure out how to switch that back to us."