Mercury 101, Sparks 82

How the Mercury Got Their Groove Back

By Ben York,
Posted: July 5, 2011

That might be the single greatest headline to an article in Phoenix Mercury history.

All jokes aside, that’s actually a good way to describe it (albeit, kind of cheesy). The team has that swagger and confidence back that was missing over the first three games of the season. They’re tough. Resilient. Steadfast. Determined.

All the qualities their championship squads had in 2007 and 2009.

The first half of this game was kind of ho-hum; certainly nowhere near the level of excitement we’re accustomed to when the Mercury take on the rival Los Angeles Sparks. At the half, Phoenix was 15-30 shooting, scored just 42 points, had nine turnovers, and allowed the Sparks to shoot 16-32 from the field for 50 points.

As if on cue, the third quarter changed all that.

“I told the team [at the half] we need to do three things,” Corey Gaines said after the game. “Play defense, get the rebound, and then we can do what we do best – run.” And run they did.

The Mercury scored a season-high (and tied a franchise record for second-best in a quarter) 37 points while hitting 12-17 shots and assisting on nine of them. They forced the Sparks into 6-18 shooting from the floor and just 15 points in the quarter.

When Ketia Swanier took an elbow to the eye from Sparks guard Kristi Tolliver with just under three minutes to play left in the third, you kind of got a sense the game was going to change. The atmosphere in the arena certainly shifted and the fans became even more involved. Prior to the foul, the Mercury was up by only two points.

However, after the flagrant by Tolliver and the technical by Joe Bryant, Phoenix rallied together and went on a 14-2 run to end the quarter putting the Mercury up by 14.

“I think a little bit before that [Swanier’s injury], we started playing a little better and got some good stops,” Diana Taurasi said after the game.” When Ketia [Swanier] went down, obviously things got a little out of control for a minute but we found a way to stay with it. When something like that happens it can affect you in a way where it takes all your energy away or it can get you going a little bit. Today, I think it did that for us.”

Corey Gaines saw it the same way.

“I think it started before that,” said Gaines.” They had an eight-point lead going into half. We just tried to play a little better defense, not foul and put them at the line. We were getting stops but we weren’t getting the rebound after the stop. A lot of times you only do those two things but if you do that third thing, that’s how you can turn it around.”

That’s putting it mildly; the Mercury completed a 22-point turnaround in the third quarter alone.

Tonight’s win is the Mercury’s sixth in the last seven games and puts them at 6-4 on the year (only one win behind league-leading San Antonio). It also puts Phoenix two games above .500 for the first time since the end of the 2009 season.

Ironically, and somewhat eerily foreboding, the Mercury had an identical record after ten games in 2007 and 2009; and I’m sure you know how those years ended.

Remember when we were concerned at the beginning of the season about the Mercury’s offense? Well, I think we can officially put that to rest. In the last eight games, the Mercury is averaging 94.9 points and eclipsed the 100-point mark for the second time this season.

Unsung Hero

This, without a doubt, has to be Marie Ferdinand-Harris. While Diana Taurasi (20 points, 7 assists), Candice Dupree (20 points), and Penny Taylor (16 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists) all had great nights, Ferdinand-Harris came up huge off the bench for Phoenix scoring 11 points (including seven in the fourth quarter) and adding 2 rebounds, an assist, and a steal.

Other Notes

  • Ketia Swanier’s eye was completely swollen shut after the game. In good spirits, Swanier will like be evaluated day to day for Friday’s game. The good news? She’s tough and with some ice to reduce the swelling it doesn’t appear (currently) there is any serious damage.

  • Penny Taylor recorded her 300th career three-point field goal tonight.

  • Diana Taurasi’s seven assists were a season high.

  • After scoring just 12 points in the last two games combined, Candice Dupree exploded for 20 points on 7-13 shooting.

  • The Mercury have made 67-71 free-throws in the last two games combined (94%).

  • The Mercury travel to Tulsa to take on the Shock Friday, July 8 before heading back to Phoenix for a rematch on Sunday, July 10.