Mercury Beats Fever, Wins Third-Straight
It was far from a perfect game, but the Mercury picked up another big win Wednesday against the Indiana Fever, 75-58.
It was the club’s third consecutive win under interim head coach Russ Pennell and the team’s longest streak since a season-high five-game stretch from June 21 – July 2. It was also the team’s season-high third-straight home win, the club’s longest home streak since August 9-20, 2011.
After inheriting a team that was 0-9 this season when being held to fewer than 80 points, Pennell’s Mercury are now 3-0 in those games because they are allowing just 60.3 points and 33.3 percent shooting including 28.6 percent from the three-point range in his three-game tenure.
“I am really proud of the ladies,” Pennell said after the game. “As I told them in there, 100 percent of this credit goes to them. All we have done is come in and say these areas we can get better in and they said, ‘sign us up.’
“They have been really good about it. I think that has been the formula.”
The Mercury held the Fever to a season-low 31.3 percent shooting and a season-low 58 points. Perhaps more impactful, Indiana shot a season-high 50 percent from the floor the game prior against the Atlanta Dream.
“It is about effort and positioning,” said Pennell on the team’s enhanced defensive philosophy. “What we are trying to do is put a little more pressure on the ball and pressure one pass away. The big thing is trying to get scorers to catch outside the score zone. That is the biggest thing. You let people catch within their range, it is hard to guard. What you are trying to do is have them catch two or three feet outside of their score zone. That buys the rest of the team time to help.
“Most people think basketball is a one-on-one game, but if you get good team defense you can do the things we did tonight, which was hold them to 31 percent.”
The Mercury improved to 4-1 since the All-Star break and concluded the team’s season-long five-game homestand with the same record. It was also Phoenix’s seventh consecutive win against an Eastern Conference opponent – they are now 7-1 in interconference games this year.
Diana Taurasi only took seven shots, but she managed to finish with a double-double of 12 points and 11 assists – her ninth career double-double and second of the season. She also passed Lauren Jackson for fifth on the WNBA’s all-time scoring list at the 3:16 mark of the first quarter.
All that mattered to Taurasi is another “W” in the win column.
“It is a little different,” she said about the recent changes. “We are trying to do some different things and they are working out now. Today, we knew we were playing a good Indiana team. They are always tough to play against. Defensively, they are hard-nosed. It is a handful.
“Collectively, we did a good job today of having everyone involved on both sides. We wore them down.”
DeWanna Bonner finished with 15 points and 7 rebounds in an efficient 5-10 from the floor. Brittney Griner had another solid all-around game with 14 points and eight rebounds. Candice Dupree added 16 points on 7-11 shooting before going down with a mild knee strain. Jasmine James is also being evaluated for a possible concussion sustained in the second half.
“I am just trying to be aggressive,” Candice Dupree said. “This team is a pretty good test for us after beating Tulsa twice in a row.
“It started off a little bit shaky, but we picked it up defensively and were able to force some bad shots, shot clock violations, and just getting out on a run.”
Phoenix has won three-straight games under Russ Pennell (all three games in his tenure) without scoring 80 points. Before Pennell’s tenure, the Mercury owned an 0-9 record in games in which it failed to reach the 80-point mark, and the team was 2-19 (.095) in such games in 2012.
Quote of the Night: Taurasi on being fifth all-time in scoring
“It is cool. Whenever you are with the four mentioned in the breath of those players, it is an honor. You play the game to enjoy, love it, and if those things come along the journey than it is icing on the cake.”