Mercury Bounces Back in Win over L.A.
Resilient basketball teams make a habit out of responding positively to change and bouncing back from adversity.
And while it’s true that you cannot control when/if you experience adversity, you absolutely have total control over your reaction to it.
Resilience is an insistence or tenacity of spirit. Rather, it is the team’s resilience to adversity that makes all the difference in the world.
That’s precisely why, in this writer’s humble opinion, the Mercury’s 90-84 road victory over the Los Angeles Sparks tonight was the biggest win of the year (so far).
Indeed, a solid case could be made that the team’s most significant victory came in Indiana after starting the season 0-3 – and you wouldn’t necessarily be wrong – but let me tell you why I think this was bigger (and why it does, in fact, matter).
Phoenix came into tonight’s contest with the Sparks having lost three games in a row. Needless to say, their play on the court didn’t really inspire confidence. They were banged up (still are), short-handed (still are), and faced a Los Angeles Sparks team who hadn’t lost at home all year and was riding an 18-game home winning streak.
To put it mildly, the odds weren’t exactly in the Mercury’s favor.
But rather than submit to doubt, they rallied together and played, perhaps, their best team-basketball of the season.
"Absolutely,” Candice Dupree said when asked if this was an important win. “But we know that in order to win the game we were going to have to be physical. The game was extremely physical, I think on both sides of the court and I think some of our losses against LA, Minnesota, teams have just beat the crap out of us.
“Tonight, we didn't back down. We came out with the win."
Phoenix didn’t start the game on a hot note, but they certainly finished on one.
Los Angeles began the game on a 10-0 run and led 23-16 after the first quarter. The Mercury responded with a 30-point second quarter (their second highest scoring quarter of the season) to capture a 46-38 lead at the half and never looked back.
In spite of a huge run by the Sparks in the fourth quarter to cut the Mercury lead to just one, Phoenix rallied late to seal the 90-84 victory.
"We started the game so lousy that there was no other way but to get a little bit better,” Diana Taurasi said after the game. “We stayed close in the first quarter, which was key and then the second quarter we did a good job defensively of getting in the way, getting rebounds and then we were able to go. Penny (Taylor) hit some shots. 'Pree (Candice Dupree) and DB (Dewanna Bonner) were running the lane, so we did some good things in the second quarter."
The win came at another crucial time with two huge games against the Minnesota Lynx before the All-Star break next week. Had they lost it would’ve been their fourth in a row putting them at 8-8 (.500) on the year.
Certainly, what is most encouraging was how each player contributed when needed. Diana Taurasi was in full “White Mamba” mode scoring 32 points, grabbing seven rebounds and dishing out six assists. Candice Dupree and DeWanna Bonner were huge on the boards combining for 20 of the Mercury’s 37 rebounds (to go along with 32 points).
Additionally, both Charde Houston and Penny Taylor came up with much-needed field goals down the stretch to keep the Mercury lead out of reach.
Not to be overlooked, the Mercury’s hybrid of a 1-2-2 zone paid dividends for the team. While Brittney Griner and Lynetta Kizer remain day-to-day, Phoenix has suddenly become vastly undersized. To combat that, Gaines and his staff worked tirelessly with the team on both man-to-man defense and the 1-2-2 zone.
It’s new, and defense can always be improved on, but it held the highest scoring team in the WNBA to just 38 percent shooting from the floor.
“The important part is we came away with a win,” Corey Gaines said. “We’ll continue to work on our defense, our spacing.
“We’ll regroup and prepare for Minnesota in a few days.”
DeWanna Bonner made a 3-pointer and a layup as Phoenix opened the third quarter on a 9-2 run and took its biggest lead at 55-40 on Alexis Hornbuckle's reverse layup.
Quote of the Night: Sparks' Head Coach Carol Ross on the Mercury's Zone
"Their zone. It was evident that their zone really made us slow down and made us get back on our heels. We weren't able to run as much, which we did later on in the second half, so I think we kind of figured out their zone later on, but it came at a hard stretch in the game. We know what we're up against, we're going to see them again, and we just don't like to lose at home, that was tough. Anytime we play them it's always physical, two teams playing hard and aggressive."