Taurasi, Griner Lead Mercury Past Mystics
Sometimes a team wins due to an offensive onslaught – an ability the Mercury is obviously no stranger to.
Other times, like tonight, they simply have to gut it out for all 40 minutes.
In a 90-82 victory over the Washington Mystics, the Mercury did exactly that.
New Head Coach Mike Thibault has his Mystics team believing in their collective ability, led by the lightning-fast Ivory Latta (22 points, 5 assists). In spite of Phoenix holding a 13-point lead in the second half, Washington hung in and even rallied to within four points late in the game.
In the end, the Mercury dug deep to come away with the W behind 31 points from Diana Taurasi and 21 from Brittney Griner (a career-high) to get back to .500 (4-4) on the season. The team has now won four of its last five games after starting the season 0-3.
“We made it a point to attack the basket tonight,” said Head Coach Corey Gaines afterwards. “I think what happens is sometimes you attack the basket and sometimes you don’t get the call. In the back of your mind your thinking, ‘I didn’t get the call; I’m forcing it.’
“We changed that tonight.”
The aggressiveness is showing up on the defensive end of the floor, as well. In its last two games, the Mercury defense has held opponents to just 81.0 points per game (including a season-low 80 for the league’s highest scoring team, Minnesota), 41.8 percent shooting and 5-of-18 from three.
And then there’s Diana Taurasi.
The veteran guard had 31 points, five assists, five rebounds (and zero technicals). Chants of “M-V-P” were audible as she hit her ninth and tenth free-throws with 20.5 seconds left in the game to seal the victory.
No big deal. Normal, right? Just another night at the office.
(Yes, that was sarcasm.)
It’s getting to the point where that type of stat line for her is commonplace. There’s no other word for it than incredible. Or, maybe amazing. Or, extraordinary.
Her game-high 31 points is her second 30-point effort of the season and 36th of her career. Taurasi has now recorded six-straight 20-point efforts and is averaging 28.2 points per game in her last six (to go along with 4.7 rebounds and 5.2 assists). The five-time scoring champ is averaging a league-best 24.6 for the season.
One small request – let’s make sure we never take her for granted. Sound good?
“It’s tough,” said Mystics guard Ivory Latta about defending Taurasi. “She’s a big guard. I can’t help out so much, we just have to do better defensively – everybody, me too.”
Not to be overlooked was the assertiveness of Brittney Griner. She tallied a career-high 21 points on 10-15 shooting to go along with four rebounds and four blocks. Griner has now recorded four or more blocks for the fourth time this season, and is on pace to finish with 94 blocks which would shatter the franchise record of 64 set by Maria Stepanova in 2001.
Perhaps more impressive, Griner showcased a vast array of post moves that we haven’t seen on a consistent basis since her time at Baylor.
“I felt comfortable tonight,” said the 6-8 center. “It feels good to be on the court. I wasn’t pushing or trying too hard.
“I was just trying to do what I know I can.”
Still, the entire team chipped in when they needed to. Candice Dupree did a phenomenal job guarding Crystal Langhorne, DeWanna Bonner had a game-high nine rebounds, Krystal Thomas helped Griner hold Michelle Snow and Kia Vaughn to a combined seven points, and Briana Gilbreath tirelessly chased Ivory Latta and Tayler Hill around all night.
The play of Charde Houston has to be turning heads as she continues to be a huge spark plug off the bench for Phoenix. She put up 13 points, two rebounds, two assists and two steals in just 24 minutes of action in the team’s win tonight.
Having that type of insurance and energy as a sixth-woman has greatly benefited the Mercury thus far.
“I think once we are aggressive like that, we feed off of it,” added Taurasi. “Charde Houston is going to the basket, Candice Dupree is playing hard.
“It worked pretty well today.”
After shooting a season-low 34.4 percent from the field two nights ago against Minnesota, the Mercury shot a season-high 51.6 percent tonight. Phoenix has shot 50.0 percent or better from the field three times in eight games after doing so just twice in 34 games last season.
Quote of the Night: Corey Gaines on Griner's Performance
“We had a little talk and she had been posting up on the block. She has been going outside that circle. She has to be staying inside the circle. She stayed inside the circle tonight and that helped us a lot. Instead of being five feet away from the basket, she was three feet away from the basket.”