Friday night after a big Phoenix Mercury victory over the Dallas Wings, the team was slated to have their destiny of a playoff birth in their own hands.
The match-up on Sunday afternoon against the Chicago Sky started out as probably the biggest game of the season, but the playoff picture aligned where the teams had clinched playoff seeding before the game began.
A Loss by the Minnesota Lynx aided in the Mercury clinching of a playoff birth at the seventh seed at the time, and their destiny of which opponent they would play was in their hands.
A win would rematch them in the playoffs with the Sky, and with a loss, they would be the 8th-seed and face the Las Vegas Aces who clinched the number one spot after their victory over the Storm.
Regardless, both top two seeds would be a hard task to overcome, with all of the makeshift lineups and missing star power, one would deem the 1st round a foregone conclusion of an inevitable sweep.
But hold on a minute, this is the Mercury, a team that has faced tremendous adversity all season long and is no stranger to being backed into an impossible corner and coming out swinging.
Today’s game against the Sky went quickly from a game with playoff implications to a mere exhibition warm-up for the playoffs.
The Sky got the win in blowout fashion 82-67 and starters for both squads had already been removed by halftime, and the young players got a chance to log some good minutes.
Rookie Sam Thomas got her first points in a WNBA game, replacing Kaela Davis after turning her right ankle on an And-1 opportunity where she couldn’t shoot the free throw.
Tomas may have gotten time in this game at some point, but Sky Head Coach James Wade chose her as the designated shooter for the and-1 free throw attempt which forced her into the game.
The biggest bombshell of the night was following the game, as Mercury Head Coach Vanessa Nygaard put out some serious intriguing information going into the playoffs this week.
When asked if guard Skylar Diggins-Smith would be available for the playoff matchup with the Las Vegas Aces, Coach responded with
“Not sure, but there’s a chance you could see lots of people, we have Kia Nurse, we have Diana Taurasi, Skylar, you could see a lot of people”
This seemed clearly like a playoff strategy by coach Nygaard, particularly in regards to Kia Nurse who has been rehabbing an ACL injury all season long and has not played in one game all year.
It would be very hard to believe that a coach would play a player that hasn’t been in any game-speed competition coming off an ACL injury and into a live playoff intense game.
The questions on these players returning or not would give Aces Head Coach Becky Hammond and staff something to think about as to which Mercury team they will face on Wednesday night.
The last time these two teams met the Mercury were a totally different contracted team, being a team finding its way through a season without its star Center Britney Griner.
Since then the team has added new players and those players have started to get acclimated to the system, in particular Jenny Simms, Rahanda Gray, and late comers Kaela Davis and Yvonne Turner to replace key players out.
The growth that Diamond DeShields, Sophie Cunningham, and Shay Peddy as starters will pay great dividends, making the Mercury more of a mystery to figure out should Skylar, Diana, and Nurse return.
The good thing about making the playoffs is that you can erase the things of the regular season, such as a league worse 4-14 road record and a 0-3 mark versus the Aces.
When asked if that would be a focus mentally heading into the playoffs Coach Nygaard said “Well, we’re undefeated on the road in the playoffs this year” and the fact they are not the same team that played the Aces three times within the first two weeks of the season.
The WNBA playoffs will be very intriguing to watch, and with the new 3-game first-round format, anything can happen.