Candice Dupree had 17points and 10 rebounds in her debut with the Mercury but Coach Gaines called her performance "so-so". (Photo via www.wnba.com)
(For the full game day thread, please click here)
It was a fun and exciting nail-biter to kick off the 2010 WNBA season that had to make the folks back at ESPN and WNBA HQ pleased, but neither the Mercury or the Sparks felt like they played a good game which is to be expected to a certain degree.
Both teams talked about the lack of practice time with their full rosters and both teams felt they have a lot of room for improvement.
"All these teams early are going to look a little disorganized," Diana Taurasi explained before adding, "We've got a lot of stuff to fix...There were some flashes there where we played two or three minutes of the way we want to play for forty."
The Mercury certainly weren't in a good flow as evidenced by the 22 turnovers which Coach Gaines feels can be easily corrected with more practice time. 4 from 14 (28.6%) from behind the arc isn't going to be the norm nor can they be pleased with only eight assists.
The replacement of Cappie Pondexter with Candice Dupree will obviously slow things down a touch as well. It's a concession Gaines is unwilling to make however, insisting that his team will still run the ball at a break neck pace and yet he was pleased with one difference, "We won in the rebounds. A different type of team."
The Mercury had 45 total rebounds to the Sparks' 40 but LA also shot only 36% from the field so from a total rebounding percentage standpoint, LA won .504 to .496. Still, it was close and that was without Nicole Ohlde in the line-up. Dupree led the way for the Mercury with 10 rebounds followed by 9 for Tangela Smith and a surprising 7 from the smallest player in the league, 5'3" Temeka Johnson.
Of course, Gaines also left the door wide open for Dupree to show more than she did in her debut in a Mercury uniform, "I told her she had a so-so game. She had 17 and 10. That's sub-par for her...She'll get better."
The game was tight from wire to wire with the Sparks building an 8 point lead in the first quarter and the Mercury pulling ahead by no more than 10 in the third.
In crunch time it was a back and forth game that came down to a one point advantage for Phoenix with 17.8 seconds and LA ball. The Mercury went with a big, defensive line-up that could easily switch (Bonner, Taurasi, Taylor, Dupree and Smith) and managed to force the ball out of Parker's hands and eventually to Noelle Quinn. To her credit, Quinn hit a dribble pull up 12 foot bank shot to take the lead.
The Mercury played solid defense and weren't unhappy with their performance but simply tipped their hat to Quinn for hitting a tough, contested look. That left the Mercury with 4.7 seconds to go for the win.
I wasn't surprised that Gaines called Penny Taylor's number over Taurasi's given how each had played up to that point and I recalled a last second play against the Silver Stars in the playoffs where he gave her the ball as well.
The Sparks seemed a bit thrown off though and in a move that played right into Gaines' hands, Gillom put back-up Center Tiffany Stansbury on Taylor who was inbounding the ball.
Taylor was not going to be rattled in that situation and got the ball to Dupree at the elbow and broke baseline in a play very similar to something the Phoenix Suns ran with Amare Stoudemire and Grant Hill in 2008 to win two close games. Dupree, a better passer than Stoudemire, hit Taylor cutting baseline which forced the defense to collapse and foul to prevent an easy lay-up.
Taylor stepped to the line and calmly sank both for the win.
"Little pressure situation but you either do it or you don't. I'd just come from Turkey where I was in a similar situation so it was good preparation," explained the no-longer blond Aussie.
As for the hair color change, Taylor who only arrived in Phoenix late Thursday night joked, "That's what happens when you go to a hair dresser in a country where they don't speak English."
Different Sparks Team
Candace Parker looked fit and flashy in her season debut (24 points and 12 rebounds). If she can stay healthy this season she's going put up monster numbers given the lack of offensive talent that surrounds her as compared to the reigning MVP, Diana Taurasi who never found her shot and finished 2 for 12 and insisted that her right hand, which she broke while in Russia, didn't bother her. But what else do we expect DT to say?
The only other offensive spark for the Sparks (ha!) was rookie point guard Andrea Riley. Riley played 28 minutes in her debut in large part due to an Achilles problem that veteran Ticha Penicheiro is battling.
Riley had 16 points and 4 assists. Riley admitted she was nervous in her first WNBA game but tried to fight through it. She certainly didn't lack for confidence, firing away and finishing with an inefficient 4 for 14 including some long three's early in the clock that she insists are part of their new system - take open shots.
Mercury point guard Temeka Johnson was slightly less impressed with Riley's approach, "You can't come in the league talking like you've already done something but you know she's a young and upcoming talent and so I am sure eventually she'll learn and grow from it and get better."
Candace Parker talked about playing without Lisa Leslie saying that it is an adjustment not having her on the court to pass her the ball in the high-low game or having Lisa to dish to in the paint. CP insists that it will take the entire team to pick up the slack.
With a new head coach and Lisa gone Parker says this about her team's style of play: "It's going to be tough to stop us in transition...We are run and gun team more so then we were last year."
That's music to Corey Gaines ears, "It's good. I like that. Better for me."
It will be interesting to watch how many teams try and replicate the Mercury who have won two of the last three WNBA championships with an up-tempo style. Gaines certainly seems to hope that plenty more jump on the bandwagon.
This game wasn't statistically a fast pace but that had a lot to do with the foul calls and turnovers. It was pretty clear that the Sparks want to push the pace and are no longer looking to run a lot of clock before pounding the ball into the post.