Mercury Clinch Playoff Spot in Win
“When you end with more points than the other team, that’s a good thing,” Russ Pennell said after the Mercury’s 83-80 win over the San Antonio Silver Stars tonight.
Simple, yes, but true.
Phoenix led by 18 in the second half before San Antonio got within two in the in final minute. Taurasi’s three free throws in the last 23 seconds helped to seal the Mercury’s win.
With the win, the Mercury clinched the eighth playoff berth in franchise history; fourth in the last five seasons and fifth in the last seven campaigns overall.
The 2013 WNBA Playoffs begin Sept. 19, and Phoenix will host a game on either Sept. 21 or 22.
The Mercury improved to 6-2 under Interim Head Coach Russ Pennell, the best eight-game start to a head coaching tenure in franchise history. The 5-1 record at US Airways Center under Pennell is also the best home start to a head coaching tenure in franchise history. The Mercury was 4-6 at home before the Pennell era.
“I thought it was probably the best game from start to finish that we have played since I have been here,” Pennell said after the game. “We had some open looks and we didn’t take shots [in the fourth quarter]. I have to give credit to San Antonio; they kept fighting and coming back at us. They didn’t give up at all, you wouldn’t expect them to.
“I thought if we hit a couple more shots in the last three to four minutes we probably would have gone ahead and won it rather easily.”
The Mercury improved to three games over .500 for the first time since July 7th (8-5). Phoenix was a season-best four games over .500 on July 2nd (8-4), a mark the Mercury could match with a win Sunday in Atlanta.
Including Phoenix’s +10 advantage on the boards tonight, Phoenix is outrebounding opponents by an average of 37.5-29.5 (300-236), a +8.0 margin (+8.3 at home) under Pennell. The Mercury owned a -1.5 rebounding differential (35.9-34.4) prior to the change. Phoenix opponents are grabbing 6.4 fewer rebounds per game.
“The thing that I like is we make plays at the end,” added Pennell. “If we are going to be a championship team we have to be able to do that. Krystal Thomas made two huge plays that this thing (stat sheet) won’t ever show. When she crashed the glass on the free throw and they knocked it out of bounds and then the steal at the very end.
“So I was happy that someone like Krystal, who didn’t get a lot of accolades, did a great job tonight.”
Candice Dupree scored 18 points, extending her Mercury season-high streak of double-digit scoring efforts to 20 consecutive games, the third-longest such streak in the league this season, third-longest active (McCoughtry-29, Fowles-22). Brittney Griner grabbed a career-high 14 rebounds to go along with 16 points, recording her second career double-double, both in the last four games. Briana Gilbreath had her best game of the season tallying 12 points on 5-9 shooting.
Not to be outdone, Diana Taurasi tallied 21 points and seven assists tonight and remains on pace to become the first player in league history to average at least 20.0 points and 6.0 assists in the same season. Taurasi extended her career-high streak of seven or more assists in a single game to seven consecutive contests, and is now averaging 7.6 assists in eight games under Pennell, and a career-high 6.1 assists overall this season, second-most in the league.
“We have made some good improvements in some areas,” said Taurasi about clinching a playoff spot. “There are always things, you look back on this game and there were some things to improve on. The goal is to always get better but you also have to win some games. I think the schedule with no more practices until the end of the year, with the travel, will be tough.
“Some of the stuff you have to do in game and find a way to win and today we did that.”
HOME DEFENSE: Including tonight’s defensive effort that held the Silver Stars to 80 points on 37.9 percent shooting, Phoenix has held its six home opponents under Russ Pennell to a combined 68.3 points on just 35.9 percent shooting compared to the 84.6 points on 44.9 percent shooting Phoenix was allowing prior to the coaching change.
Quote of the Night: Brittney Griner
"It was fun. A lot of fun when you clinch a playoff spot!"