Slow Start, Long Season
There were glimpses, but the Phoenix Mercury team that many anticipated would show up on May 27 never quite found their rhythm in a 102-80 loss against the Chicago Sky.
Certainly, this isn’t the way the Mercury would’ve chosen to open the 2013 season, but there isn’t a single person on the team panicking. It sounds cliché to say how early in the season this is, but that’s the best way to describe it. After all, it's been said that prosperity is a great teacher, but adversity is better. On that topic, had the Mercury won by 25, there would’ve been excitement, sure, but also some apprehension with it being the first game; it’s important for teams to peak as the season winds on, not at the beginning of the year.
Having said that, based on today's game against the Chicago Sky, there are several things the Mercury needs to work on before their next game -- all of which, can be remedied.
From the tip, the Mercury was stagnant on offense and not able to get much of anything going. As a result, the Mercury found themselves down by 24 points (56-32) at the half. The energy was better in the second half as the Mercury cut the Sky lead to 12 late in the third quarter – but a flagrant foul called on Diana Taurasi gave the Sky two free-throws which were followed by a 3-pointer from Epiphanny Prince to increase Chicago's lead back to 22.
“We knew the offense they ran with [Elena] Delle Donne and Epiphanny [Prince],” said Corey Gaines after the game. “At first we switched it and then we blacked it, which is a hedge that forces the guard to go wide, and that worked which cut the lead down to 12. The flow was going our way and we were getting some stops, but the six-point play with the flagrant really took the wind out of our sails.”
In the fourth quarter, Brittney Griner (17 points, 8 rebounds) was able to get the first dunk of her WNBA career (one-handed) followed by a monstrous second one (two-handed). While they were both amazing, there's no doubt she wishes they were under different circumstances.
“I always like to get the crowd going,” said Griner on her dunks. “But it would’ve been better if we won.”
As a team the Mercury shot 42.6 percent from the field compared to the Sky's 50.7. Diana Taurasi led the Mercury in scoring with 18 points while Prince and Elena Delle Donne paced Chicago with 26 and 22 respectively. The Sky hit eight 3-point field goals while the Mercury finished with just four (out of 11 tries).
“We had a lot of issues today,” said Diana Taurasi on the Mercury’s struggles. “We couldn’t really get much done on either side of the ball. They [Chicago Sky] also played a hell of a game. They came in here and gave us a pretty good kickin’. They deserved it; they played better from beginning to end.”
It might not be much consolation, but the Mercury has a bad habit of starting slow. In fact, the Mercury has dropped its home opener in each of the last three seasons and for the fourth time in the last seven years -- but they've also won two WNBA Championships and reached the Western Conference Finals four times in that period.
It's important to remember this is just one game. Indeed, losing is never fun, but the Mercury will learn from this game as they continue the season. Sometimes, losing is a great motivator and helps a team find their identity quicker. Losing measures how much you blame others, whether you own the loss or not, and lends itself to analysis for improvement.
"I don't want to take anything away from them," DeWanna Bonner said about the Chicago Sky. "But there's no doubt we could have played better. The team on the court tonight isn't the one we know we can be. But we'll get back in the gym and work on getting better. We have a group of players here that understand what it's going to take.
"You always learn a lot in a loss."
Keys to the Game Revisited
Cohesion – It was there in spurts, but overall the flow and rhythm of the Mercury’s offense wasn’t at the level it typically is. As a collective team, they looked the best when they cut the lead to 12 in the third quarter – lots of ball movement and buckets in transition.
Rebounding – The Mercury was out-rebounded 41-29 and 13-7 on the offensive glass. Needless to say, the gap on the boards was a major factor in the loss. Anytime the Mercury is out-rebounded, it usually means their shots aren’t falling and the opposing team is making them pay for it.
Turnovers – Phoenix turned the ball over 14 times which resulted in 21 Chicago points, while the Sky tallied 13 turnovers that led to just nine points for the Mercury. The 14 turnovers aren’t terrible, per se, but several of the turnovers came when Phoenix was in the middle of a run which hampered their momentum.
The Chicago Sky shot 50.7 percent from the field tonight including 8-16 from the 3-point line. In the second quarter alone, the Sky connected on 5-7 from downtown and 70.8 percent from the field overall led by rookie Elena Delle Donne’s 12 points on 5-7 shooting (2-2 from the 3-point line).
Quote of the Night: Diana Taurasi on Brittney Griner
“Foul trouble will happen. It’s part of the game. But the way she came out in the second half was good news. To be on the bench the whole first half and come out in the second and play well, if we can get two halves of that then we have a chance at winning some games.”