Mercury Can't Get By Storm

By Ben York, PhoenixMercury.com
Posted: August 23, 2013

Entering play tonight, the Mercury’s magic number to clinch the eighth playoff berth in franchise history, fourth in the last five seasons, and fifth in the last seven overall, was four – any combination of Mercury victories and San Antonio Silver Stars losses.

However, with their 81-73 loss to the Seattle Storm tonight, the magic number remains at four.

Looking at the bright side, the Mercury now owns a 4-2 record under interim head coach Russ Pennell, which is tied for the best six-game start to a head coaching tenure in franchise history, matching Cheryl Miller’s start in 1997.

“I thought our players played really hard; I thought we did compete,” said Pennell after the game. “The thing that bothers me is that it’s the little things right now that are keeping this Phoenix Mercury team from being great. They are very talented, have a lot of positives, but it’s the little things that are killing us right now. We’re not boxing out; we’re turning the ball over at an alarming rate. They outscored us by seven on the offensive glass and they outscored us by seven on the turnovers. That’s 14 points and we lose an eight point game. Those are effort plays. Seattle played a great game – they’re a hard-nosed team. I love what they do.

“As a basketball coach you appreciate that, but when your effort and your energy and your knowledge and everything doesn’t come together – I told them in there, you can play really hard and not play very smart. What we need to do is start playing with a high basketball IQ as well as playing hard.”

Looking at the box score, there aren’t any glaring discrepancies between the two teams. The Mercury actually shot the ball better from the field, and assisted on 20 of their 24 made shots. However, the Storm did have nine second chance points to the Mercury’s two, and Phoenix’s 16 turnovers led to 21 Seattle points.

“You know, I look at the stats and we beat them in a lot of stats,” added Pennell. “But the two that killed us tonight was they got more offensive rebounds for points and we turned the basketball over. The bad thing about a turnover – and this is what drives basketball coaches nuts – you can’t rebound a turnover. You can take a bad shot and throw the ball up on the backboard, you can throw it over your head, at least that’s a reboundable ball.

“When you turn it over you don’t even get a chance to get an offensive rebound and put it back in. We’ve got to value that and that’s been a problem since I’ve been here; I think we have turned the ball over at an alarming high rate.”

The Storm swept the season series against the Mercury for the first time since 2010 (4-0). The loss is the Mercury’s fifth consecutive defeat against Seattle, and fourth consecutive home loss to the Storm.

Candice Dupree extended her Mercury season-best double-digit scoring streak to 18 games, tied for the third longest of her career, and the longest since July 10 – Aug. 30, 2011. DeWanna Bonner’s 20 points gave her nine for the season and first since August 11.

Diana Taurasi finished with a game-high seven assists tonight, as many as the entire Seattle team (7). In the Mercury’s previous home game on Aug. 14 vs. Indiana, Taurasi finished with a game-high 11 assists, as many as the entire Fever team (11).

Still, Taurasi would obviously take the win over any individual stat. But it will be a while until the Mercury has an opportunity to get the bad taste out of their mouths – they don’t play again until Saturday, August 31 when the visiting Connecticut Sun comes to town.

In fact, the Mercury only plays two games (both at home) in the next 14 days.

“After this week it’s a tough stretch for us - we have a lot of games in a limited number of days so it’s just a balance of rest and at the same time finding a way to get better as a team,” Diana Taurasi said with confidence.

“I think we need this week. In this last stretch we are 4-2 in the last six so there’s improvement there and we’re just going to keep getting better and that’s what we have to do in this next stretch.”

X-Factor

One bad quarter: In the first meeting of the season with the Storm, the Mercury were outscored by seven points in the third quarter and lost by three, 75-72. In the second meeting, the Mercury were outscored by 12 in the third quarter and lost by nine. In the third meeting, Phoenix was outscored by 13 in the third quarter and lost by 15. Tonight, Phoenix was outscored by 10 points in the second quarter and lost by eight.

Quote of the Night: Diana Taurasi on the second quarter struggles

“They played well, that’s just the bottom line. They made more plays on offense, more plays on defense. They made it hard for us to do anything on the offensive end. Defensively I thought we did good in the second half – we limited them to some tough shots. The way things were going it was pretty hard to get any kind of footing out there.”