Mercury Captures Huge Game 1 Win
“We know this game means nothing if we go back to Phoenix and lose.” – Diana Taurasi
Just four days prior, the Los Angeles Sparks beat the Phoenix Mercury by over 30 points on the same court the two teams played on tonight.
On top of that, Candace Parker was named WNBA MVP before the game. Indeed, things certainly seemed to be in LA’s favor.
But not a single member of the Phoenix Mercury felt that way.
Labeled as underdogs in the series by most analysts, the Mercury rallied in the second half to beat the Sparks 86-75 on Thursday night in Game 1 of the Western Conference Semifinals. Phoenix has dealt the Sparks two of their three losses at Staples Center this season. Tonight’s win also snapped the Sparks’ six-game home winning streak.
In the first half, the Sparks shot 13 free throws to the Mercury’s two, and out-rebounded Phoenix 23-10. Nevertheless, Phoenix went into halftime down by just five points, 43-38. Phoenix rallied in the third quarter turning the five-point deficit into a 65-60 lead going into the final quarter. The Mercury turned that lead into double-digits thanks to six-straight points from Candice Dupree in an 18-10 run.
“It was typical of a playoff game, back and forth,” Russ Pennell said afterwards. “They obviously hit us in the mouth in the first half and really were killing us on the glass. I thought that was the area that was hurting us the most at half time. Second to that, was transition defense, and those were the two things we tried to address at halftime. I’m really proud of our ladies and the way they fought back.
“It’s really tough to win on the road, and it’s certainly tough to beat a team like Los Angeles who’s got such a good team and a good record. So, we’re real pleased to get in here and get Game 1.”
Diana Taurasi, who mystifyingly didn’t finish anywhere in the top five in MVP voting, had game-highs in both points (30) and assists (7). She played all 40 minutes, had just one turnover and hit 11-of-13 free throws. She scored 14 points in the third quarter as Phoenix out-scored the Sparks 27-17 in the third.
"It was a game of runs for the most part,” said Diana Taurasi. “They came out in the first half, played really well. We didn't really get any kind of rhythm offensively and then defensively they pretty much did what they wanted. All the things we knew that could hurt us they did in the first half and they did it really well. In the second half, we made some simple adjustments and that helped us get back in the game.
"We got a little bit better rhythm and flow and that helped us through the fourth quarter."
After the game, Taurasi said the game ball should go to Candice Dupree for her stellar defense on Candace Parker in the second half. Dupree also added 16 points, seven rebounds and five assists. As a team, the Mercury assisted on 20 of their 34 made shots, had just eight turnovers to the Sparks’ 16 and eight steals to Los Angeles’ two.
“The first quarter was difficult,” Dupree said. “First half, actually. We didn’t have any rhythm or flow offensively; they were killing us on the ball. Surprisingly, offensively, they were killing us on the ball. Surprisingly we actually shot a higher percentage than they did and had only five turnovers at halftime.
“I thought in the second half we really picked up the intensity, got a lot of stops, rebound and we were able to get out and run.”
Ultimately, as cliché as it sounds, tonight was the definition of a “team” victory. Yes, Taurasi’s 30 points and seven assists were huge, but so were Lynetta Kizer’s six big points in 11 minutes and toughness in the paint. DeWanna Bonner added 13 points and five boards, and Brittney Griner tallied 10 points and six rebounds in spite of getting into early foul trouble.
For the Mercury, they understand how big Game 2 will be on Saturday at US Airways Center at 7:00 P.M.
“To come back here on Monday would be a very dangerous scenario for us because we know what a great home team they are,” added Taurasi.
“We’re going back home and looking at the film and seeing the things that we can improve on. We’re going to see if we can do them for longer stretches and just give ourselves a chance to win."