Phoenix relaxed, ready for Game 2

Carefree Mercury Not Fazed by Deficit

By Mark Heller,
Sept. 8, 2007

AUBURN HILLS, MICH. -- While the Mercury were jogging in a circle around The Palace court before Thursday’s practice, Diana Taurasi approached the scorer’s table where assistant coach Bridget Pettis was chatting with some league personnel.

Taurasi stuck her head in for a second, then gave Pettis’ shorts a firm tug until they dropped to her knees and resumed running.

Pettis wore biker shorts underneath, in part as a precautionary move against such Taurasi tactics.

Team-wide, the looseygoosey mantra is part of this team’s script, and not even today’s must-win Game 2 against Detroit in these WNBA Finals has put a doubt or damper on the team’s kick-back attitude.

From a Kelly Miller birthday serenade, to black nail polish, to coach Paul Westhead quot- ing “Dead Poets Society,” the Mercury acted and sounded nothing like a team with worries while they try and play out of a 1-0 deficit in a best-of-five against the defending champions.

“We know who we’re playing, but we’re not going to lose our swagger because of it,” Pettis said.

The roster is naturally filled with different personalities, but players raved about the group dynamics and affection for each other, regardless of any individual’s circumstances or playing time.

Taurasi being the outspoken, engaging, practical jokester. So, too, are Olympia Scott and Tangela Smith.

Kelly Miller is the quiet one, with everyone else somewhere in between .

But the Mercury didn’t get to this stage by being unselfish, clothes consultants for one another at the mall during days off, or hiding an occasional whoopee cushion.

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They got here behind a 16-2 run after the All-Star break, and the confidence that Wednesday’s loss — their first since Aug. 4 — wasn’t the end of the world.

Considering how much didn’t go well in Game 1, the Mercury were within four points with two minutes left.

To the team, it meant the past two days were spent correcting and adjusting instead of rebuilding.

“I don’t think we played nearly as well as we can, but we still came so close,” Kelly Schumacher said. “We feel confident things will work out to our advantage.”

Players up and down the roster pointed to Westhead during those 48 hours. His democratic style, even keel, dry sense of humor and calm aura has helped prevent them from grinding knuckles, chewing nails or biting lips.

“They have reason to feel confident,” he said. “We were beaten fairly but not immeasurably.”

Phoenix is counting on a better day from Taurasi, who was saddled by fouls, and a yearlong knack of making successful tweaks in their defense and rebounding

. It’s been a carefree playoff ride to this point. The Mercury swept Seattle and San Antonio to reach the Finals.

The roster — and their halfcourt shots for money — says there’s been no plunge, unless you count Pettis’ shorts.

“We’re not going to be down because we lost one game,” Smith said. “It’s one in a fivegame series. If it was a onegame series, yeah, we’d be mad, but it ain’t one game.”

COPYRIGHT 2007, EAST VALLEY TRIBUNE. Used with permission.