Mercury's Stellar Defense Leads to Win
Russ Pennell has video proof now.
“They spoiled me,” Pennell said after the game about the Mercury’s stellar defense. Pennell also became the first coach in franchise history to start his/her career 2-0. “Now I have footage that they can do it.
“We may watch that over and over.”
He wasn’t kidding.
En route to a 77-56 win, the Mercury held the Tulsa Shock to just four points in the second quarter, tying the record for the fewest points allowed in a second quarter in WNBA history. The mark also ties the record for second-fewest allowed all-time in a quarter.
“I think that this team realizes if they want to accomplish what they want to accomplish they have to shore some things up,” Pennell added. “We have watched a little bit of film and showed them when they have been good on the defensive end; it has led to their offense. It has made them a better all-around team.
“The thing about basketball is this; we all love it because you can score. It is a scoring game and everyone loves that. You can play great defense; we played great defense and they made a shot in our face, that is why we love basketball, but what you are trying to do is make it as difficult as possible for long stretches of time. That is what happened in the second quarter and led us to victory.”
Phoenix allowed just 16 first-half points, two shy of the fewest allowed in a half in franchise history. The Mercury set a new WNBA record with 12 blocks before halftime, including seven first-quarter blocks (which also ties a WNBA record).
Brittney Griner blocked five shots in the first half (six total which ties a single game franchise record), all in the first quarter. For Griner, it is her single-season franchise-record ninth game with at least four blocks.
“I mean, you have to play defense if you want to win,” said Brittney Griner. “We’ve kind of banned around each other and committed to doing that. We still have a ways to go but we are getting better every day.”
Perhaps overlooked in all of the defensive improvements was Diana Taurasi setting a WNBA record for the fastest player ever to score 6,000 points. Taurasi reached the mark in 25 games fewer (291) than it took the previous fastest player, Lauren Jackson (316).
Taurasi had no idea she was close to 6,000 points, and deflected the credit towards her coaches and teammates.
“It is cool. You do not get to 6,000 [points] without great coaches, great teams, great players around you,” said Taurasi. “You do not get there. You have to have really good people around you every step of the way.”
For Taurasi, playing hard and together as a team is vastly more important.
“When [defense] is an emphasis, you have to do it,” said Taurasi. “You do not want to be the only out there not doing it. Not playing hard and not doing the things we talk about before the game and in practice. Every person in here is capable of doing it.
“I have played on high-caliber teams where if that is the emphasis, that is what you have to do.”
Playing with that type of intensity in a victory is a direct correlation of total team unity. Krystal Thomas and Lynetta Kizer both came up big against Liz Cambage in the paint, Alexis Hornbuckle had two huge steals that led to Mercury points, and Candice Dupree and DeWanna Bonner were each 8-15 from the floor while combing for 41 points and 11 rebounds.
“I think the important part now is just to keep building,” Candice Dupree said. “We’ve won a couple in a row but there are a lot of things we can clean up.
“We’re all committed to working hard and continuing to improve.”
In two games under Pennell, the Mercury has allowed an average of 61.5 points on 38-of-110 (.345) shooting, including just 11-of-38 (.289) from three-point range. Phoenix is outrebounding its opponents 71-52 in that span.
Quote of the Night: Russ Pennell on the Mercury's defense
“I told the ladies at halftime, when you play defense like that, when you really up your intensity and you are in the right position and that becomes a priority, you will have some stretches like that.