Bonner, Taurasi Lead Mercury Over Dream

By Ben York, PhoenixMercury.com
Posted: August 3, 2013

No one felt comfortable enough calling tonight’s game against the Atlanta Dream a “must-win,” but it was close.

With seven of the Mercury’s next nine games at home, the Mercury knew how important starting their five-game home stand against the East-leading Atlanta Dream would be.

“We knew we had to come out and play much better than we did in Seattle Thursday,” Diana Taurasi said after the game. “Luckily, we came away with a win tonight.”

With their 82-76 win over the Atlanta Dream, the Mercury is now 6-1 against Eastern Conference opponents and owns the best interconference record in the WNBA. Of those six wins, four have come against teams that would make the playoffs if the season ended today (Indiana, Washington (2), Atlanta).

Perhaps more significant, in the last eight games that Brittney Griner has been available, the Mercury is 6-2, and 8-3 in the last 11 games she’s played.

“It is always good to protect home court,” Brittney Griner (nine points, four rebounds, three blocks) said after the game. “To get this win, we just want to build from it now.”

In spite of an up and down game on both ends of the floor – both literally and figuratively – the Mercury found a way to grind it out. The Dream entered tonight as the league’s 12th-ranked three-point shooting team, making an average of 28.0 percent on the season. Tonight, the Mercury’s recent addition of a match-up zone defense held the Dream to just 2-of-17 from downtown (.117).

Additionally, Phoenix held the Dream to just nine third-quarter points, an Atlanta season low for a quarter overall and a Mercury opponent season low for the third.

“It was up and down like a roller-coaster,” said Corey Gaines on the team’s overall performance. “We did a lot of crazy things. We can’t have 21 turnovers in a game. Brittney [Griner] was great. Even though she did not score a lot of points, her in the back of the defense really helped out a lot.

“They couldn’t get shots off, they couldn’t drive, they had to go from the outside.”

Playing her first home game since July 2, WNBA blocks leader Brittney Griner recorded three swats in tonight’s game, and is averaging 3.50 blocks in two games since returning to injury. Griner owns 41 total blocks in 14 games (2.93), and could become the first WNBA player since 2002 to average better than 3.00.

“I’m excited to be back,” Griner said with a smile. “I’m excited to be home on the court and in front of a home crowd. I am just happy to play.

“I came out pumped for sure.”

In the Mercury’s previous game coming against the Seattle Storm, Diana Taurasi was held to 10 points or fewer for just the third time all season. Following her first sub-20 point game (June 2 at Seattle), the league leader in 20-point performances ripped off six-straight such games, including two 30-point performances. The pattern held true tonight as Taurasi finished with 28 points on 9-of-19 shooting.

DeWanna Bonner, playing her best basketball of the season of late, scored 23 points, her second 20-point performance in the last four games and seventh overall this season. Tonight’s scoring effort also marks her sixth-straight game of 15 or more points, her longest streak of the season.

“I think our energy went up. I think start of the second quarter we were a different team,” DeWanna Bonner said.

“We got the hustle plays, the loose balls, and we got the win.”

X-Factor

One game after the Mercury’s zone defense saw the Seattle Storm make 11-of-26 (.423) three-point attempts, tonight Phoenix limited Atlanta to just 2-of-17 (.118) shooting from long range. In fact, the Mercury held the Dream to just 39.4 percent shooting from the field; not including the Dream’s 6-of-7 field goal efficiency on the fastbreak, Atlanta was 22-of-64 (.344) against Phoenix’s defense in the halfcourt.

Quote of the Night: DeWanna Bonner on taking care of their home court

“It’s very important. It’s one thing that we said when we were in the huddle that it is time to take care of home court. We have a good schedule coming up and to get some wins would be great. We need them.”