Returning home from a tough road trip, the Phoenix Mercury looked to get in the win column in the comforts of the Footprint Center in downtown Phoenix.
Early on Diana Taurasi got the Mercury going scoring the team’s first 6 points and keeping them afloat. A very good team the Connecticut Sun comes in at 7-3 and playing the second night of a back-to-back, were probably primed and ready to yield a much-needed win to a team desperate to taste victory again.
The first quarter Diana was in high-level form setting up teammates to the tune of 3 assists and got help during the first half from star guard Skyler Diggin-Smith, who helped with 12 points and 3 assists. In the first half, 11 assists helped the Mercury take a lead of 9 before the half and the turnover bug helped the Sun to close the gap to a 3-point Mercury lead at the half 45-42.
The story of tonight’s game was the huge amount of combined turnovers at a total of 43, and 20 of those from the Mercury that resulted in 23 points for the more seasoned Sun team.
The Sun looked vulnerable as they played a very sloppy game turning the ball over 23 times, but still able to keep a team that still finding its way in a position to not be able to close the deal for a win.
Second half the Sun got off to a great start and took the lead back 59-53 at the midway point of the 3rd quarter, and the Mercury relied on their superstar Diana Taurasi to keep them from letting the game slip away in the 3rd.
Former Mercury forward DeWanna Bonner raised the antenna of her ex-teammates in particular Diana Taurasi, who seemed amped up more than usual. At one point in the third quarter Bonner could not knock down a shot and Diana came down on the other end hitting threes and giving her former teammate an evil stare down.
The Mercury came in the game short-handed in the paint without center Tina Charles, and it was not an easy task for Sophie Cunningham and others to hold off the bigger players in the middle. But even short-handed the Phoenix Mercury played a very physical style of play and battled the bigger team with everything they had, which is what Sophie Cunnigham said of her game in the paint tonight;
“I am just trying to do whatever the team needs at this point. Clearly, I am not a post player, those girls are strong and big. I give them all the credit; I feel like a little wimp. I have never felt like that in my life. I was willing to put my body on the line for the team, try to be scrappy and get boards. It is what the team needed, but it just was not enough tonight.”
The 92-88 loss was another step closer to getting better, as the Mercury has to find a way to finish games more efficiently.
Diana Taurasi likes where the team is headed as she stated in her comments after the game;
“We have not had a lot of things to hang our hat on, but tonight, at least there was a resemblance of a team that if things start going our way a little bit we are going to be a scary team down the road. We have to start stringing some wins together.”
Point Guard Skylar-Diggins-Smith chipped in with a great performance with 22 points and 6 assists, but also contributed 4 of the 20 turnovers that aided in the close loss. Diggins-Smith was effective in going strong into the paint attacking the rim and also setting up open three-point shots. This seemed to allow the Mercury to open up an 11-point lead in the fourth.
The momentum changed after the referees decided to look at every play for a string of plays that slowed down the Mercury rhythm and allowed the Sun to gather themselves and make a final push at the win.
In the final 2:31 of the game, the Sun started making big shots, as the out-of-sink Mercury settled for the desperate three to keep their lead which dwindled away.
Connecticut’s DeWanna Bonner all of a sudden hit the big three that closed the Mercury’s lead to a single point, then the wheels completely fell off the wagon as the Mercury missed their last five shots. These were the most important shots of the game.
Diana Taurasi finished with 32 and was 6 of 12 from the three-point line, and hit those three’s in a timely fashion, but was unable to add to that in the critical part of the game.
For a team that was short-handed, they played a very competitive game with a great opportunity to win, but the lack of rebounding size and no presence to score in the paint didn’t allow for a much-needed win tonight and stretched the losing streak to seven.
Going forward the Mercury seems like they are headed in the right direction, and looking like a team that is finally starting to gel together and will make for a dangerous club in the second half of the season.