Mercury Rising

By Ben York,
Posted: July 15, 2011

Earlier today, we posted an article on detailing the team’s phenomenal improvement on the defensive end of the floor this season.

Tonight, the Mercury made us look like geniuses (which, some will say, isn’t easily done).

Phoenix held the Washington Mystics to just 65 points in a 78-65 victory, their sixth win in a row and tenth in the last 11 games. More significantly, Phoenix forced the Mystics into 35 percent shooting from the floor and only 24 percent from beyond the arc. Phoenix also held the Mystics to just 27 first half points - a season-best for the Mercury defense.

“It’s easy when you’re playing well and making shots,” Diana Taurasi said. “Tonight, that wasn’t the case. I think it was a tough game; we grinded it out.”

As Corey Gaines said after the game, it’s not realistic to expect the team to play flawlessly every night, but he does expect them to play hard. Tonight, they did exactly that. When their shots weren’t falling and they couldn’t get into a consistent rhythm, the Mercury turned up the heat on defense and ended up forcing multiple shot-clock violations from the Mystics.

“You try to stay at that level every game but it’s tough,” Corey Gaines said. “Sometimes you have to win the ugly games at it was an ugly game. I can’t be too hard on them; they can’t be perfect or be at that level every night. But still, a couple little things didn’t go our way. We got them on the shot clock a couple times, we just couldn’t get the rebound afterwards or we’d get the ball and turn it over. It could be worse.”

Offensively, Phoenix only had three players in double-figures (Dupree – 20, Braxton – 17, and Taurasi – 13) but all ten active players scored at least two points and grabbed at least one rebound. Again, this certainly wasn’t the offense that we saw put up 112 points in Minnesota earlier this week but, as all championship-caliber teams do, they found a way to win.

One standout in particular was Penny Taylor (big surprise, right?). Taylor played 31 minutes and had an off shooting night but did just about everything else for the team grabbing eight rebounds, dishing out seven assists, and notching five steals. When the Mercury was able to run, they put the ball in the basket at an effective rate. Phoenix had 21 fast-break points to the Mystics’ five and scored 50 of their 78 points in the paint.

“It’s difficult some nights, playing different teams and having so many games in a row,” said Kara Braxton (17 points, three rebounds) after the game. “We started off slow but we knew we had to get it together because at one point they caught up with us. We just pulled it together and buckled down and we came out with the win.”

By the way, Diana Taurasi scored her 5,000th point in the WNBA with 3:45 left in the third quarter and had no clue. Not surprising considering she didn’t know she was the fastest to 3,000 or 4,000…

“It’s cool,” Taurasi said while shrugging her shoulders. “I guess it’s a lot of hard work and being in that right situation with the right people around so that’s cool. I didn’t know that.”

Gotta love her. The textbook definition of a “team” player.

Other Notes

  • The Mercury’s sixth-straight win is the longest active win streak in the WNBA and Phoenix’s longest since July 1-8, 2009.
  • Phoenix is now 5-1 against Eastern Conference opponents this season, the best inter-conference record of any team in the WNBA.
  • The Mercury is the first Western Conference team to the 10-win mark and is now tied with the Indiana Fever for best record in the WNBA.
  • Diana Taurasi’s free-throw with 3:45 left in the third quarter made her the fifth player in WNBA history to record 5,000 points. She reached the mark quicker than any other player (243 games).
  • The Mercury will host the Minnesota Lynx on Wednesday, July 20 at 12:30 pm.