Big 3 Help Mercury Surge Past Sun Into Semifinals
By Patrick Ralph
The Phoenix Mercury were down four to the Connecticut Sun at the half of their second round playoff matchup on Thursday night at the Mohegan Sun Arena. Diana Taurasi had 15 points at intermission for Phoenix. Despite the slim deficit, the Mercury needed more from its All-Star trio in the second half.
While DeWanna Bonner had nine points at the half, Brittney Griner only had eight. Phoenix needed both players, and even a little more from Taurasi, to step up if it was going to advance to the WNBA semifinals.
Phoenix’s big 3 responded to the call. Taurasi, Griner, and Bonner combined for 77 points as the Mercury pushed past the Sun, 96-86, to eliminate Connecticut in the second round on its home floor for the second straight year. Despite the two teams trading the lead back and forth for the entire game, Phoenix closed out the contest with a 15-2 run in the final four minutes.
After combining to score 32 points in the first half, Phoenix’s All-Star trio put up 45 points after intermission. Taurasi chipped in 12 more points to finish with 27. Taking advantage of Connecticut refusing to double-team her down low on the block, Griner poured in 19 more points to finish as well with 27 and dominated in the second half. Not only would Bonner score 14 second-half points to finish with 23 for the game, but she would also finish with a game-high 18 rebounds.
At the half, Phoenix shot only 40 percent from the field and 29 percent from three against Connecticut’s defense. However, the Sun’s defense could not find an answer or get a stop when it needed to most in the second half. Phoenix finished the game shooting almost 54 percent from the field and a pedestrian 37 percent from three.
While a 37 percent showing from the perimeter is just an average day at the office for Phoenix, opponents typically only shoot 34 percent from beyond the arc against Connecticut. Connecticut’s defense also held opponents to 44 percent shooting from the field this season. So in the grand scheme, this was an impressive offensive showing from the Mercury.
But Phoenix did not just win this game because of its offense. In fact, it was the Mercury’s ability to rebound and defend that contributed to the win. This year, Connecticut shot nearly 47 percent from the field against its opponents. However, Phoenix held the Sun to 44 percent shooting from the field in the game.
But what Phoenix did on the glass against Connecticut on Thursday was remarkable. The Sun were the best rebounding team in the league this year, while the Mercury finished third-to-last. However, it was Phoenix who outrebounded Connecticut 40-30 on Thursday night. Simply put, the Mercury beat the Sun at their own game.
By controlling the boards, Phoenix was able to limit second-chance opportunities and take away the paint from Connecticut with good defense. As a result, the Sun were not able to establish their dominant presence around the rim on Thursday night. This is thanks in large part to the tremendous performances by both Bonner and Griner.
All-Star Chiney Ogwumike came into the game averaging a team-high 14.9 points and 7.3 rebounds per game this season. Alyssa Thomas came into the contest averaging a team-high 8.1 rebounds per game this year. Both players finished in the top 10 in the WNBA in rebounding.
Instead, both Ogwumike and Thomas were non-factors against Phoenix. Ogwumike finished with only two points and three rebounds off the bench for Connecticut, while Thomas was also limited to three rebounds, too. The Mercury neutralized Connecticut’s two best rebounders.
With the win, the Mercury will now face the top-seeded Storm in the playoff semifinals starting on Sunday afternoon. Furthermore, Taurasi is now 13-0 in winner-take-all elimination games. Of course win No. 13 would come in the same state that Taurasi starred in as a college player for the UConn Huskies.
While Seattle might have won the season series against the Mercury and will have home-court advantage, the Mercury showed in Uncasville on Thursday night that stars are the key to winning a WNBA title. Phoenix might not have the same depth that other teams have, but its’ three-headed monster of Taurasi, Griner and Bonner have proven that they can carry this team to a championship.
And it sets us up with an outstanding matchup between two Western Conference rivals.