Bonner, Dupree Lead Mercury Over Sun
It certainly wasn’t pretty, but the Mercury came away with a huge victory over the Connecticut Sun tonight, 76-68.
With the win, the Mercury decreased its magic number to clinch the eighth playoff berth in franchise history, fourth in the last five seasons and fifth in the last seven campaigns overall to one – any combination of Mercury wins and San Antonio Silver Stars losses.
The Silver Stars and Mercury will not play again until San Antonio visits Phoenix on Friday, September 6. Needless to say, that matchup is poised to be an intense, physical game with playoff aspirations in mind.
The Mercury improved to 5-2 under Russ Pennell, matching the best seven-game start to a head coaching tenure in franchise history with Cheryl Miller in 1997. Phoenix had won twice in the nine games immediately preceding Pennell’s tenure (2-7, July 7-Aug. 6). The Mercury is now 4-1 under Pennell at US Airways Center, which also matches the best home start to a head coaching tenure in franchise history (again, with Cheryl Miller in ’97).
Perhaps more noteworthy, the Mercury was just 4-6 at home in 2013 before the Pennell era.
“I expect everybody’s best every night out,” Pennell said after the game regarding the team’s effort. “I think that it’s one of the things that we have to get in our head, from all the preseason hype and everything else, this team has a target on its back. Rightfully so. We have good players. I want us to think that every night we are going to get everyone’s best shot. They [Sun] have great players. I was telling our coaching staff, that is probably the biggest difference between professional basketball and college basketball.
“Everybody has good players in the pros and records can be deceiving.”
Indeed, as Pennell stated, it wasn’t the best night for the Mercury from an offensive standpoint. Only three players scored in double-figures (Dupree – 22, Bonner – 22, Taurasi – 10) and the team turned the ball over 17 times leading 24 Sun points.
However, Phoenix held Connecticut to just 68 points on 29-of-82 (.354) shooting which, ultimately, was the difference in the game. In five home games under Pennell, Phoenix has held its opponents to just 36.4 percent shooting at US Airways Center and to just 67.4 points compared to 84.6 points prior to the coaching change.
The Mercury also out-rebounded the Sun 47-33 and had 11 blocked shots compared to six for Connecticut.
“At halftime they had 12 points off our turnovers,” said Candice Dupree. “Ten points off offensive rebounds. Once we cleaned that stuff up I think they shot 30-something percent from the floor.
“As long as we take care of the ball we can go down there and score.”
Tonight’s win marked the Mercury’s eighth consecutive victory against the Eastern Conference. Phoenix is now 8-1 (.889) overall in interconference play this season. The Mercury has not dropped a game to an East foe since the season opener on May 27, and only the Los Angeles Sparks (10-1 vs. East) own a better interconference record in the WNBA this season.
“I think we were a little sluggish from seven days off,” DeWanna Bonner said. “We were a little out of rhythm. It took a minute to get there. They are a good team. Tina Charles is a load to handle by yourself. I think we found it and got a couple runs.”
Still, all that matters is another “W” in the win column.
“Going into the last 2:40 of the game, I just told them I do not care if we win by one point, but we need to get the win and take care of the ball,” added Dupree. “We extended our lead a little bit and were fortunate enough to come away with the win.”
The Mercury improved to 4-1 (.800) in games in which the team has not eclipsed the 80-point mark; by contrast, Phoenix was 0-9 this season when scoring less than 80 points before Pennell’s tenure.
Quote of the Night: Russ Pennell on the schedule and overall team play
“It’s hard. Especially when you look at the back end of our schedule. We have six games in nine days starting next Friday. We will be travelling in between every game. I don’t know if we will get to practice after next week. I think the big thing that we have tried to do is really establish our defense. I think we have gotten better at that. I think they shot 35%. The other side of that is trying to play with a little more randomness and freedom. To try and get away from the sets quite as much. I think tonight we got some nice curl cuts to get to the basket for layups. This team has a high basketball IQ and if we can put them in those situations where they can make the decisions, most of the time they make the right decision. It has been the careless of the passing that has really hurt us.”