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Preview: Phoenix Mercury (1) vs. S.A. Silver Stars (2)
Newcomers Crash Western Conference Finals Fiesta

The 2007 Western Conference Finals features two teams new to the playoff party. Before this season, the San Antonio Silver Stars had never been in the postseason while the top-seeded Phoenix Mercury had not won a playoff series since 1998 before their first-round win. But with the amount of talent that these two teams have amassed over the past few seasons, it was only a matter of time before the Mercury and Silver Stars rose to the top. The Mercury swept the Storm in the opening round while the Silver Stars bested the Monarchs in a tough three-game battle.

With three All-Stars who finished in the top 10 in scoring (something never done before in the history of the WNBA), the Phoenix Mercury averaged a WNBA record 88.8 points per game. They scored 101 and 95 points in the two first-round games and are capable of scoring 100 points on any given night, outrunning and outscoring their opponents on a regular basis.

Gm 1: at S.A., Thu., 8/30, 8 p.m. ET, ESPN Classic
Gm 2: at Phx., Sat., 9/1, 7 p.m. ET, NBA TV
Gm 3*: at Phx., Sun., 9/2, 5:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2
Guard Diana Taurasi led the WNBA in scoring last season and came on strong to finish third in 2007. She scored more than 20 points in 14 games, though she was not relied upon to score as much as last year. That's because teammates Cappie Pondexter, Penny Taylor and Tangela Smith all also averaged in double figures. Having them all together in the lineup for the entire season was the key to the team's success. The Mercury were able to stay healthy and kept their regular starting lineup intact all season long.

The continued development of Taylor is one of the primary reasons this team was able to take it to the next level. Taylor missed much of last season, yet was the MVP of the World Championships and is one of the most underrated players in the WNBA. She finished the 2007 regular season with career-best averages in scoring and rebounding (17.9 ppg, 6.4 rpg). The draft-day trade that brought Smith to Phoenix in exchange for the first overall pick has been paying big dividends for the Mercury. The 10-year veteran had another fine season, averaging 12.6 ppg, leading the team in rebounds and playing the most minutes of any player on her team. Point guard Kelly Miller was the only starter not to average double figures in scoring (she narrowly missed out), but she helps keep things organized, distributes the ball and was among the league leaders in assists. Off the bench, Kelly Mazzante is capable of knocking down shots and Kelly Schumacher gives the team another big body to rebound and start the breaks.

The Mercury's only potential liability entering the postseason was their defense, but they erased any doubts in the first round. Phoenix did give up the most points in the WNBA this past season, but limited Lauren Jackson in the first round and showed that it can be as efffective on the defensive end as on the offensive end.

The Silver Stars have also undergone significant changes in the past two seasons that have helped on their road to success. In acquiring a number of veterans to complement a surrounding cast of young and developing stars, San Antonio is built to win right now.

But it may have been the addition of guard Becky Hammon in a draft-day trade that put this team over the top. Hammon is a legitimate MVP contender this season after finishing among the league leaders in both points and assists. Center Ruth Riley, who was also acquired in an offseason trade, has won two titles with the Detroit Shock and was the Finals MVP back in 2003.

They join last year's key acquisition, starting shooting guard Vickie Johnson, who is one of the few original WNBA players still in the league. She has played in four WNBA Finals and at 35, Johnson is still getting it done. She shot 43 percent from 3, led the WNBA in assist-to-turnover ratio and grabbed nearly 5.0 rpg.

But this team is as much about its younger stars as it is about its experienced ones. Second-year forward Sophia Young is already one of the best players of the next generation, providing the inside-outside combo that is so essential to winning in the postseason. She finished the regular season with 16.8 ppg and 5.9 rpg. Also developing ahead of schedule is reserve shooting guard Shanna Crossley, who is deadly from behind the arc despite coming off the bench. In just her second season, she drained the third-most 3-pointers in the league this season behind Diana Taurasi and her own teammate, Becky Hammon. Not bad, considering she averages only 15.5 minutes per game.

Forward Erin Buescher, last year's Most Improved Player who also joined the Silver Stars in the offseason, was playing at an All-Star level before suffering a season-ending injury on July 11. But that has not slowed San Antonio down either. The late-season return of reserve center Chantelle Anderson, who was recovering from an offseason injury of her own, has added to the already strong depth of this team as veterans like Marie Ferdinand-Harris, Helen Darling and rookie Camille Little have been vital off the bench.

2007 Regular Season: Phoenix Mercury 3 - San Antonio Silver Stars 1
Some fast facts about the Mercury-Silver Stars Western Conference Finals matchup:

Taurasi
Mercury All-Stars Diana Taurasi, Cappie Pondexter and Penny Taylor combined to average 54.2 points per game. That's a lot, but it's not a record. The top-scoring trio of teammates in WNBA history is Cynthia Cooper, Sheryl Swoopes and Tina Thompson, who combined to score 55.3 ppg in 2000.
Taurasi led the WNBA in 3-pointers made for the second straight season. She shattered Katie Smith's record last season by connecting on 121 shots from beyond the arc and knocked down more than 90 this season

After recording her 1,000th career assist on Aug. 11, Vickie Johnson became the first player in WNBA history to have at least 3,000 points, 1,000 rebounds and 1,000 assists.
Becky Hammon averaged 21.0 points per game in the two Silver Stars wins in the first round while Cappie Pondexter led the Mercury with 23.0 ppg in the two wins over Seattle.
Not afraid to look to their reserves for offensive firepower, the Silver Stars have among the most productive benches in the league. Shanna Crossley is the leading Silver Stars producer off a bench that also regularly goes 10 players deep.


Hammon

Saturday, May 19, US Airways Center, Phoenix, AZ: Mercury 81, Silver Stars 72 | Box score
Phoenix Leader: Diana Taurasi (20 pts., 6 reb.)
San Antonio Leaders: Becky Hammon (15 pts., 5 reb.), Sophia Young (14 pts., 13 reb.)
NBA TV Highlights: Play | Webcast archive

Thursday, May 31, AT&T Center, San Antonio, TX: Mercury 97, Silver Stars 85 | Box score
Phoenix Leaders: Tangela Smith (22 pts., 6 reb.), Kelly Schumacher (10 reb.)
San Antonio Leaders: Becky Hammon (25 pts., 2 ast), Sophia Young (22 pts., 7 reb.)
NBA TV Highlights: Play

Wednesday, July 11, US Airways Center, Phoenix, AZ: Silver Stars 87, Mercury 77 | Box score
San Antonio Leader: Sophia Young (26 pts, 12 reb)
Phoenix Leaders: Diana Taurasi (27 pts., 9 reb.), Penny Taylor (19 pts., 11 reb.)
NBA TV Highlights: Play

Thursday, August 2, AT&T Center, San Antonio, TX: Mercury 84, Silver Stars 79 | Box score
Sacramento Leaders: Rebekkah Brunson (7 pts., 12 reb.), Kristin Haynie (14 pts., 3 ast.)
San Antonio Leaders: Becky Hammon (19 pts., 3 ast.), Sophia Young (19 pts., 4 reb.)
NBA TV Highlights: Play

2 - Shock | Mercury - 3
Game 1: DET 108, PHO 100 | Box Score | Video
Game 2: PHO 98, DET 70 | Box Score | Video
Game 3: DET 88, PHO 83 | Box Score | Video
Game 4: PHO 77, DET 76 | Box Score | Video
Game 5: PHO 108, DET 92 | Box Score | Video
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