Three Keys To Phoenix Getting Back In The Series
By Patrick Ralph
After two games in their semifinal series against the Seattle Storm, the Phoenix Mercury could be up 2-0. Both teams could also be tied up at 1-1, just like the Washington Mystics-Atlanta Dream series on the other side of the WNBA playoff bracket.
However, after the first two games in the series, the Mercury find themselves down 2-0 to the top-seeded Storm following a pair of 91-87 losses in Seattle. With its backs against the wall, Phoenix is now on the brink of elimination as it returns home for Game 3 on Friday night.
While the Mercury have played well in both games, the Storm have just been better. The margin of error between these two evenly-matched teams is razor thin that the slightest advantage in any statistical category (turnovers, assists, steals, etc.) could serve as the difference between advancing to the WNBA Finals and going home. Thus far, Seattle’s overall execution has simply been better than Phoenix’s.
If Phoenix is going to defend home court and extend this series to four or five games, the Mercury must be more consistent from three-point land, play better defense, and have an improved Brittney Griner. If not, the Storm could be having a celebration over the weekend in Phoenix.
Improved Three-Point Shooting: At the beginning of the series, one of the keys for Phoenix to defeat Seattle and advance to the WNBA Finals was its ability to make three-pointers. Yet so far, the Mercury have struggled through two games to establish the deep ball early and often. Despite shooting a solid 38.5 percent from beyond the arc in Game 1, the Mercury shot only 26 percent from three-point land in Game 2. Phoenix, which made half as many threes in Game 2 as it did in Game 1, did not make a three until the fourth quarter of Game 2 when the Mercury trailed by double digits. While Diana Taurasi’s three-point barrage in the final minutes of the fourth quarter completed Phoenix’s late rally to force Game 2 into overtime, the Mercury simply cannot wait until the final 10 minutes of the game to start making threes. Part of the reason for Phoenix’s struggles from three has been because of Seattle’s defense, which has been one of the best three-point defenses in the league this year. If Phoenix wants to get back into this series, it needs to be more consistent from the perimeter.
Better Defense: Another key at the start of this series for Phoenix to knock off its Western Conference rival was its ability to defend the Storm. The Mercury would need to force Seattle into taking both contested and lower percentage shots that the Storm did not want to shoot. So far, it has been anything but that. Through the first two games of the series, the Storm are shooting an average of 44 percent from the field and almost 39 percent from three. Unlike the Mercury’s offense, the Storm’s balanced scoring attack and depth has been one of the differences in this series. Seattle had four different scorers finish in double figures in Game 1, while five different scorers finished in double figures in Game 2. While the majority of Seattle’s team contributes to and is involved in its offensive attack, the Mercury are totally dependent upon a few to carry the scoring load. Simply put, the Storm’s diversified offense has exposed both Phoenix’s defense and lack of supporting cast. If the Mercury cannot slow down and defend Seattle, this series could be done on Friday night. Therefore, Phoenix needs its defense to feed off the home crowd to win Game 3.
Consistency from Brittney Griner: The first two games of this semifinal series have been up and down so far for Griner. In Game 1, Griner finished with only 13 points and four rebounds. In addition, she almost fouled out with five fouls in the game. Simply put, the Mercury needed Griner to play better in Game 2 if they were going to have a chance against the Storm. Phoenix was already at a disadvantage over depth and bench production in this series against Seattle; the last thing it needed was for one of its three All-Stars to not show up. In Game 2, Griner answered the bell with 23 points and 13 rebounds. However, in overtime, Grindr fouled out and was unable to stay on the floor when Phoenix needed her most. The absence of their center in the overtime period ultimately broke the back of the Mercury’s defense and ability to control the glass. Not only was Seattle able to take control of the paint by driving the lane and getting wide-open looks at the rim, the Storm were the better rebounding team in the extra frame. Those two things probably do not happen, or at least not to the same extent, if Griner is on the court. The absence of Griner’s size and length was immediately felt and impactful on the outcome of the game. Therefore, Phoenix needs an improved and more consistent Griner in Game 3 on Friday. The Big 3 of Griner, Taurasi, and DeWanna Bonner cannot dominate and win Phoenix this series if one of its members is not playing well. Taurasi and Bonner have been outstanding, so Griner must raise her game to a higher level and be better.