2010 Playoffs: Phoenix Mercury
Sep 4 2010 7:18PM
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Johnson Expects Adjustments in Game Two
Posted September 5, 2010 8:30 AM
The Phoenix Mercury's Temeka Jonson is ready to get back to business as the team prepares to host the Seattle Storm Sunday afternoon in Game Two of the Western Conference Finals. While the team may have experienced a loss in Game One at KeyArena in Seattle, a return to home court could be just the thing they need to even up the best-of-three series.
“We just have to approach the game like it’s our last,” said Johnson. “Whether it’s in Seattle or it’s in Phoenix, we have to play Phoenix Mercury basketball and not worry about what happened in the regular season, not worry about what happened in Game One. We just have to play the way we know how we can play.”
There’s no secret to the Mercury’s style of play. Phoenix wants to run the floor, shoot the ball and leave teams out of breath as they try to keep up. But in Game One against the Storm, Phoenix got off to a slow start, falling into an early hole against a team that ranked second overall in points allowed per game during the regular season. It’s certainly not an area Johnson wants to see the Mercury in again in Game Two, as the lead stayed in Seattle’s possession for the entire 40 minutes of play.
“We need to come out aggressive,” said Johnson, looking ahead to Sunday’s matchup. “We can’t allow ourselves to get put into that big of a hole against a team like Seattle. I think we’re going to have to come off the block early and try to sustain the momentum for us.”
Minor adjustments aside, Johnson liked what she saw.
“We didn’t knock down a lot of shots and we had some defensive mishaps, but other than that I think we played well,” Johnson said. “We played with a lot of energy. We played hard. But the little mistakes that we had, it adds up, and you can’t have that again.”
Although the Mercury fell short in the first game of the series, the league’s top-scoring team during the regular season (93.9 points per game) is not one the Storm will take lightly. The same can be said of 2009 MVP Diana Taurasi, whose Game One performance in which she shot 2-of-15 for nine points is not exactly commonplace.
“A player like Diana is not somebody that you need to get on,” Johnson said. “There are many times where Diana knocks those shots down, so for us to know her and to know she’s won a lot of games with those kind of shots, as a team we are behind her 100 percent and believe she’s going to do what she needs to do to bounce back from that.”
As defending champs, the target has been on Phoenix’s back throughout the entire season. Teams have been gunning for a chance to knock off the Mercury as they continue to defend the 2009 championship and battle for a repeat title. Despite being in an early hole, Johnson says there's no added pressure as the team remains confident and focused on the task at hand.
“You always want to defend the title, but I think with the up-and-down season that we’ve had and starting the playoffs, making it to the playoffs and starting fresh, the main focus is to play well,” said Johnson. “We leave everything else where it is and we just really want to play well and do it to the best of our ability.”
“Where I’ve come from to where I am now, it definitely feels good to be in this position and I know we’re going to do whatever we can to repeat and get past a very good Seattle team.”
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Braxton Brings Even More Experience
Posted September 1, 2010 4:30 PM
The playoffs are nothing new to Kara Braxton. This year marks her sixth straight forray into the second season, although the five previous trips all occurred with a different team -- the Detroit Shock.
The Shock moved to Tulsa prior to the season and struggled to collect wins as the year transpired. With it becoming clear mid-way through the campaign that the Shock would not contend for a playoff spot, it seemed as if Braxton's postseason streak was about to end.
That is until the Mercury came into the picture.
With Western Conference rival Seattle becoming the clear favorite, the Mercury knew they needed to make a move in order to compete with the Storm's strength -- its dominant frontcourt. On July 23, Phoenix acquired Braxton, a winner of two championship rings with Detroit, in exchange for Nicole Ohlde and Phoenix's first-round pick in 2011. The team signed her to a two-year extension shortly thereafter.
With the deal, Braxton landed in her third city in less than a year. But she says Phoenix's welcoming atmosphere resulted in an easy move.
"They made it real homely for me," said Braxton. "They accepted me with open arms and the girls were really nice so it wasn’t that hard of a transition for me coming here.”
Getting adjusted off the court is one thing. Getting adjusted on it is a different matter and a more important one. While teammate Candice Dupree has said that it took her some time to get completely comfortable with the Mercury's fast-paced attack, that wasn't necessarily the case with Braxton because of the team and system she came over from.
“It is kind of different but it was kind of similar," said Braxton. "Tulsa helped me a lot with the running transition because Phoenix likes to push the ball up. But coming to Phoenix is totally different in its own sense, it’s a whole different style but with the running part it's all the same.”
Following the Mercury's two-game sweep of the San Antonio Silver Stars in the opening round and the Storm's sweep of L.A., the Phoenix-Seattle clash everyone was waiting for is now here. And it's time for the Braxton acquisition to be put to the test.
The first round saw Braxton have a strong game and a mediocre one, yet the Mercury were still able to advance without being pushed to a third game. That likely won't be possible in the Western Conference Finals. Phoenix will need Braxton to produce a big performance every time out in order for the Mercury to have a chance to defeat the mighty Storm.
“They have threats coming from the bench and all their starters, so that’s something that we have to really batten down on and practice and get mentally and physically prepared for," said Braxton.
As noted above, Braxton has been here before, so she should be mentally ready. Counting the two so far this season, she's racked up 39 career playoff games and her postseason numbers go up with each successive year. And when you put her together with Dupree, Penny Taylor, DeWanna Bonner and Tangela Smith up front, suddenly the Mercury have a fair chance at containing Lauren Jackson and Co.
“It comes down to the game," said Braxton. "Just playing hard. Who wants it more, really. They say they got the good defense and we have the good offense, so both of them level out. It’s just a matter of who pulls it out in the end.”
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Mercury Aims to Maintain Tempo
Posted August 27, 2010 8:15 PM
When the Phoenix Mercury tipped off against the Los Angeles Sparks back on May 15, it not only stood as the start of the 2010 WNBA season, but it also signified the first game in which Phoenix would look to repeat as champions. Following Thursday night’s 106-93 win over the San Antonio Silver Stars in the first round of the Western Conference Semifinals, the Mercury is one game closer to making the hopes of a repeat effort a reality.
“We thought it was very important to try and set a tone in the first game of the playoffs,” said 12-year veteran and two-time WNBA champ Tangela Smith. “We came out and played and stayed aggressive.”
Distribution was the name of the game for the Mercury, tallying a team total of 33 assists, 10 of which came from Diana Taurasi. Candice Dupree led all scorers with 32 points in the first postseason game of her career.
“We knew it was her first [postseason] game, and I kind of tease her about it,” laughed Smith. “We knew she would come out and produce but that’s exactly what she did. She came out and played like she has always played in playoff games, not like it was her first game.”
“We jumped on her back,” Smith added.
In addition to Dupree’s 32 points, the Mercury also received offensive contributions from Penny Taylor (20), Taurasi (14), Kara Braxton (14) and DeWanna Bonner (9). Smith had seven points, six rebounds and five assists in the win.
The depth of Phoenix’s scoring is one aspect that Smith believes makes the Mercury such a tough team to play against.
“We have a lot of weapons so it’s hard to defend all of us at the same time,” said Smith. “The right person has to step up. If they’re going hard at Diana and Penny, [then] me, Candice and Temeka have to step up. We have to just keep doing what we’re doing because on any night any one of us can go off like that.”
Despite holding a one-game lead heading into Game 2, Smith and the Mercury remain focused on the goal ahead, taking it one game at a time.
“We want to try and limit their touches and make everyone else step up,” said Smith. “At the same time we want to get the ball out of Becky’s [Hammon] hands. If we can just do that and put a lot of bigger bodies on her, with that lineup again, we can defend her like that and limit her in a lot of things.”
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Dupree Getting First Taste of Playoffs
Posted August 25, 2010 6:15 PM
Candice Dupree was put in a tough position when she was acquired by the Phoenix Mercury during the off-season. Well, going from a non-playoff team to the defending champs overnight isn't all that bad, but she was ostensibly "replacing" superstar Cappie Pondexter, a fan favorite and a big reason the Mercury won titles in 2007 and 2009.
It's about to get even tougher Thursday when the Mercury begin their opening-round playoff series with the San Antonio Silver Stars and continue their quest to repeat. The series will mark Dupree's first as a WNBA player, as she spent her first four seasons in the league with the Sky, who always flirted with but never quite came through on a postseason berth.
So does she have any jitters?
“None at all," said Dupree. "I haven’t really thought about the fact that this is my first postseason. I am excited, but jitters? No.”
It's been a transition year for Dupree, literally and figuratively. Besides moving from one team to another and one city to another, she's also had to familiarize herself with Corey Gaines' famous high-octane offense system out in Phoenix. According to her, the biggest adjustment has been the conditioning.
“Yeah I almost died," said Dupree. "It’s tough. Playing against it was hard but to actually be in the system and trying to learn it, it’s difficult and something that your body has to get used to. It probably took me six or seven games before I was able to withstand the pace of the game. At first, after four of five minutes, I’d have to ask for a sub."
“Once the All-Star break came along I was pretty adjusted by then," added Dupree. "It gets a little harder as the season goes along because you’re body gets a little more tired, but you just have to push yourself through it.”
After starting all 34 games for the Mercury during the regular season it's safe to assume Dupree feels comfortable in the system now and knows it well.
The bigger unknown right now is the team as a whole. What Mercury squad is going to show up? The team that went 7-1 from July 3 through August 6? Or the team that dropped six of its last seven regular season games?
According to Dupree, the team has good mindset going into the postseason.
“It’s a pretty laid-back atmosphere here but at the same time we know when it’s time to work," said Dupree. "The game plan is to try and get them in two games so we can have an extra game to rest going into the second round of the playoffs.”
Of course, it helps that most of the core that won the title in 2009 is back for another shot.
“They’ve been here before so they know what they have to do," said Dupree. "They’re trying their best to try and bring me along. I just have to stay motivated and keep working hard.”