Strong Second Half Not Enough for Mercury

By Ben York, PhoenixMercury.com

Taking on the Los Angeles Sparks for the third time this season, tonight also marked just the fourth home game for Phoenix this year (no team has played fewer home games in 2012).

Adding even more pressure to the Mercury, the team is getting ready to embark on a nine-day, four-game road trip beginning next week where they'll face the Lynx, Sky, Mystics and Silver Stars.

However, in spite of a brilliant second half, the Mercury wasn't able to overcome the Candace Parker-less Sparks, falling 93-84.

The story of the game was undoubtedly the contrast between the first half and the second. In the first half, the Mercury scored just 27 total points, shot 31.4 percent from the field, and put up eight points in the entire second quarter.

"You have to understand," Coach Corey Gaines said regarding the contrast in play. "We ran the same offense against the zone in the third and fourth quarter as we did in the second. We just weren't hitting our shots."

However, in the second half, the Mercury scored 58 total points including a 31-point fourth quarter. If you take away the second quarter (30-8 Sparks), the Mercury would've actually won by 13 points (76-63).

"The zone slowed us down," said DeWanna Bonner on the second quarter collapse. "When you don't hit shots in the zone you slow down. In the first quarter, we were able to get to the basket while they were in man [to man] but in the second quarter we settled for jump shots."

Digging deeper, the Sparks had 11 points off of nine Mercury turnovers in the second quarter and forced the Mercury to shoot 3-17 from the field. For the entire rest of the game, the Mercury shot 49 percent (28-57) and had just nine total turnovers in the first, third, and fourth quarter combined.

Leading the way again for the Mercury was DeWanna Bonner and Sammy Prahalis. Bonner had 24 points, six rebounds, and three assists in 38 minutes of play. Prahalis had what could be considered her best game in a Mercury uniform tallying an impressive 22 points, five rebounds, five assists, and four steals.

Even though they lost, credit the Mercury for coming back -- the Sparks' biggest lead was 27 points and Phoenix fought tooth and nail to cut it down to just seven with under 1:30 left in the game.

To do that, especially after the rough first half they had on national television, takes resilience and a united belief in one another.

Going back to the eight-point second quarter, this is now the fifth game this season where one quarter has ended up dooming the Mercury. It happened previously in Tulsa, in Minnesota, home against the Sparks early on, and again versus the Sparks in Los Angeles.

"We had a lapse where we got cold," Sammy Prahalis said. "That killed us; we dug ourselves into a hole. But when we played hard, and played the way we can, we were right there in the game."

Hindsight and hypotheticals aren't always necessary, but in this case, it's worth pondering where the Mercury could be if those aforementioned quarters in multiple games were a bit more productive.

"We just want to win," added Prahalis. "We don't want to get embarrassed, so we'll just keep playing hard."

Notes

- Sammy Prahalis scored a season-high 22 points, including 15 in the third quarter. It was the most points scored by a Phoenix rookie since August 8, 2006 (Cappie Pondexter - 23). She also finished with a game-high five assists.

- Starting in place of the injured Nakia Sanford, center Krystal Thomas fell just one point shy of her first career double-double. Thomas finished with nine points and 10 rebounds. In her last two games, both starts, Thomas has averaged 12.0 points and 8.5 rebounds.

- DeWanna Bonner scored a team-high 24 points, her second 20-point performance in the last three games and fifth of the season, matching her single-season career high. Bonner is averaging 24 points and 7.7 rebounds in the month of June.

- The Mercury travels to Minnesota Wednesday for the first of a four-game road trip. Tipoff is at 5:00 p.m. Arizona time.