Mercury Catch Fire, Melt Silver Stars

Phoenix Mercury guard Cappie Pondexter was aggressive going to the rim. In this play she scored the bucket and drew the foul. Photo by Max Simbron

When you are an up-tempo, run and gun team as loaded as Phoenix is with talent you are going to have nights when you catch fire and the ball finds its way through the rim. Repeatedly.

The Phoenix Mercury had one of those nights but everyone from both teams that talked after the game didn't credit "hot shooting". Words like "active","energy" and "aggressor" were the common theme. 

Diana Taurasi, who bounced back herself from a sub-par shooting game with 24 points on 10 of 15 shooting including 3 for 3 from three in the first quarter, said this when asked about hitting her shots, "Yeah, we could probably focus on that but in the locker room we were talking about how active and how much energy we played with on the other end."

Diana went on to talk about how playing hard was far more important then the adjustments that were made, "Playing hard erases doubt. You can play as hard as you want but if you're stupid it doesn't matter. So today we played hard with being smart. It helps."

San Antonio Silver Stars coach Dan Hughes had a similar view. He opened his post game press conference with this sentence, "I thought Phoenix did a great job coming out and being the aggressor."

The Mercury did come out aggressive and hit shots early and got to the rim. Phoenix scored an amazing 17 points in the opening 4:30 of the game. But the key stretch came with about 3 minutes left in the quarter with the game tied at 21 when Penny Taylor and DeWanna Bonner came in were able to keep the pressure on. The Mercury went on a 14-2 run to close the quarter and never looked back.

Coach Hughes talked about that stretch, "I thought that was huge right there. I thought Taurasi set a pattern early but I thought we dealt with that ok. We were hanging around kind of coming in and out and offensively getting stuff done but that 12-0 run, I thought that had a lot to do with the separation in the game."

So if playing hard and being aggressive and playing active and with energy is so important, why don't teams do it all the time? How does the Mercury not play that way in San Antonio and the Silver Stars get out worked in Phoenix. These two teams have played six times this season and the home team has won every game.

Clearly home court matters, but there's more to it than that. Something that statistics can't explain. It is this mental aspect of the game that fascinates me the most and this series so far has been a prime case study in teams playing or not playing up to their capabilities.

I might have more to say about this game tomorrow but then again, what else can you say about a game where one team shoots 75% in the first half and finished with 64% shooting and a 39 to 20 rebounding advantage.

Game over. Move on to game 3 on Monday which if classic playoff trends hold true should be a barn burner.

Here's some post game audio to tide you over:

And a bonus interview with Suns guard Alando Tucker who has attended every Mercury game since coming back to Phoenix to get ready for the season. Watching him cheer for the team it is pretty clear he's a fan. Listen to the interview to see who he compares his game to.

Alando Tucker 091909

 

[Note by Phoenix Stan, 09/20/09 11:48 AM MST ]

I watched the first half the game via Tivo and also checked my notes. Couple of random thoughts:

  • Defensively the Mercury adjusted by putting Temeka on Hammon and then did a better job forcing her into help. Diana, Penny, Bonner and Cappie all did a good job coming over the help stop Becky
  • Offensively, both Cappie and Diana were aggressive attacking Vicky Johnson off the dribble. Both were able to right by her at will without the help of a screen. That forced the Stars to collapse and created all kinds of open shots
  • The Mercury ball movement was fantastic. I think an under appreciated strength of this team is the passing from Taylor and Taurasi on the wings and Ohlde in the middle
  • Ann Wauters had a better game but other then her the Stars really suffer for a lack of size up front which help Bonner look so good on the glass
  • The Merc ran a couple sweet new plays including having Taurasi and a big switch from high to lo without the ball. The big screened Diana's defender but on both times they ran this the two Stars players both ended up following D out to the 3 pt line where she got the pass and immediately found the Merc big (Ohdle or Bonner) open in the low post for easy buckets
  • The Merc also did a great job running a side pick and roll with Penny and Nicole which resulted in Bonner being open on the weak side. Nicole skipped the ball to the far side and they posted DB against a smaller player. Bucket and 1. Great ball movement. You can't defend those kinds of plays
  • The Mercury love to try and Le'Coe involved early to keep her engaged in the game. To start the 2nd half they went to her on the 1st three trips down the floor. The first two times, Young did a great job denying the entry pass and on the third time Le'Coe was able to seal her in the middle of the lane and scored. They may have become a bit too predictable in this pattern though
  • The Mercury slacked off defensively in the third and played a lot more zone and SASS was able to find some seams. Bonner defensively is often out of position. Of course, so is Candace Parker. That's what young players do
  • I was impressed w/ Ohlde's passing during the game watching the replay even more so
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