Mercury Stays Hot in Win Over Sparks
Swept by the Los Angeles Sparks during the 2012 season, the Mercury came into tonight looking to snap a five-game series losing streak and collect its first win over the Sparks since September 3, 2011.
They did exactly that (and more) in a convincing 97-81 win.
I didn’t think it was possible, but Diana Taurasi has elevated her game to another level entirely – she finished with 34 points, seven assists, six rebounds, two steals, and two blocks on 11-19 from the field including five three-pointers in just 36 minutes of action.
It goes without saying, but when Diana Taurasi plays the way she did tonight, I’m not sure anyone can stop her.
“Diana [Taurasi] leads the way and we follow,” said Charde Houston after the game. “When she plays like that, it lifts everyone up.”
Perhaps even more impressive, in three games as the Mercury’s “lead guard” (according to Head Coach Corey Gaines), Taurasi is averaging 27.0 points and 4.7 assists, compared to 14.0 points and 2.5 assists in the season’s first two games.
Yet, even considering the gaudy numbers Taurasi attained, this win says infinitely more about the Mercury as a team. Tonight, Phoenix was down three players and had just eight available to play. Penny Taylor (knee), Alexis Hornbuckle (ankle) and Candice Dupree (serving a one game suspension) were all unavailable.
But instead complaining or acting pessimistic, the Mercury used adversity to their advantage while fighting tooth and nail for all 40 minutes.
“I was proud of how the team responded,” said Corey Gaines. “Each player stepped up and that’s really what helped us get over the top. Diana [Taurasi], obviously had it going. She’s on another level right now.”
Indeed, after starting the season 0-3, the Mercury has looked like a completely different team in their previous two wins. They’re more active on both ends of the floor, communicating more, and undoubtedly putting forth a better effort overall.
Don’t take my word for it; Diana Taurasi will be the first person to tell you that tonight was all about the team, not her.
“I think we had a lot of people play well,” Diana Taurasi said about the team. “I mean, you can talk about DeWanna Bonner but we all know what she can do. When Briana Gilbreath and Charde Houston play like that, we’re a tough team. Briana, for 40 minutes, chased Toliver around and Charde, every time we needed a bucket made something happen.
DeWanna Bonner hit three crucial shots in the fourth quarter to keep the Mercury lead at double-digits and finished with a double-double of 23 points and 12 rebounds.
Charde Houston nailed two gigantic 3-pointers at a crucial time early in the fourth quarter to build the Mercury lead (she finished with 15 points on 50 percent shooting).
Briana Gilbreath was all over the floor, hitting tough shots on offense and defending multiple players on defense (Candace Parker, Kristi Toliver, Lindsey Harding and Marissa Coleman to name a few).
“It’s fun when you play together, when you know what you’re doing,” Diana Taurasi added. “When you’re playing hard. When you’re playing with a purpose. That’s having fun and then if you win, that’s the icing on the cake.
“In the last two games I think we had fun and we’ve done enough to win those games.”
That’s the absolute best way to put it – the Mercury is having fun again.
As evidence, all one needs to do is look to the latter half of the third quarter – the best they’ve looked as a team all year.
Not coincidentally, it also featured the most smiles.
With the Mercury trailing by two points with 6:25 remaining in the third, Taurasi scored 12 points and connected on 3-of-4 three-point attempts in the last half of the period to lead an 18-6 Mercury run. Phoenix turned a two-point deficit into a 10-point lead heading into the fourth quarter. To open the fourth period, Taurasi and Charde Houston combined to hit their first three three-point attempts and push the Phoenix lead to 14 with 7:17 to play. It never got closer than double-digits from that point on.
That, my friends, is Phoenix Mercury basketball.
Mercury Head Coach Corey Gaines vowed to return to the "organized chaos," up-tempo style that helped Phoenix win two championships. Tonight, Phoenix posted a season-high 97 points, its most in a game since August 11, 2011 (109).
Quote of the Night: Corey Gaines on the Mercury's Tempo
"We decided we weren't going fast enough."