Four games into the 2010 season and the defending WNBA champs are 2 and 2 and understand as well as anyone that they are not playing well enough to accomplish their goals for the season.
The Mercury simply aren't playing with the intensity and urgency they need for a full forty minutes to beat good teams like the Dream and the Storm. In both games the Mercury got down by big margins which seemed to wake them up enough to fight hard and close the gap but not enough to steal the win.
You can even argue that in the long run these losses will serve the team well and force them to address whatever issues are leading to these slow starts and large periods of flat, uninspired play. Had the Mercury squeaked out victories against Seattle and Atlanta they might suffer from a false sense of confidence that could have repercussions later in the season.
Obviously though, in a short 34-game season there isn't much time for "finding yourself" as a team and the Mercury know that.
"I'm not sure why we're doing it but we are definitely coming out differently in that first half and sort of expecting it to happen instead of making it happen and we need to turn that around and we recognize that," Penny Taylor explained.
The solution according to both Taylor and Taurasi is a combination of playing harder, playing more consistently and paying more attention to the little things like setting good screens and using those screens properly.
Another area of concern has to be Candice Dupree.
Coach Gaines thought she played well in the first quarter but after that it was obvious she didn't "have it" as he only played her 20 minutes in the game and left her on the bench for the last five minutes when she watched as her new team went on a 16-0 run to cut the Dream 92-75 lead to one point.
Dupree was replaced by DeWanna Bonner who continues to be the brightest individual spark for the Mercury with her highly energetic and aggressive play. Even though she miss several easy layups, Bonner finished with 13 points, 13 rebounds and 3 blocks in only 26 minutes.
She is an absolute joy to watch play basketball.
Dupree meanwhile, looks hesitant and tentative and admitted that she might be over-thinking things as she tries to adjust to her new team. She's got a lot of people in her ear from her current coaches to friends and even former coaches.
"It's a lot to take in so at some point you just have to keep it in the circle and listen to those who know and leave it at that," Dupree said.
She's confident that she will sort it out but that's going to have to come soon. The Mercury can't afford her adjustment period to go too far into the season.
The Atlanta Dream played very well against the flat Phoenix Mercury in the first half, putting up 65 points on 56.3% shooting with 36 of those coming in the paint. The front line tandem of Erika De Souza and Sancho Lyttle dominated the lane on both ends of the floor and last year's Rookie of the Year had yet another great all around game.
Angel McCoughtry finished with 28 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists and talked after the game about wanting her team to "dwell on the win" and both savior the victory but also think about what they can do better. A very mature statement from a second year player.
Asked what's different from last year's Dream team Angel responded, "Chemistry. The love on this team, the love is tremendous. Everybody hangs out, everybody loves each other. We care about each other. I think that's the difference."
That love was evident just watching how much joy the players seemed to get out of each others' success.
Coach Marynell Meadors was happy with her team's performance right up until that final stretch when she felt her young team got frantic.
"They are so good offensively that you make a mistake and they are going to score on you," Meadors explained but she also gave credit to the Mercury defense in the second half.
"They buckled down, they played defense. They took us out of a lot of the offensive sets that we have. They put a lot of pressure on our point guard. I thought they played defensively one of the best games I've seen them play in the second half."
Building out from the defensive end of the floor and getting stops and rebounds to fuel the offense is a focus for the Mercury this season according to Dupree, "That's one of the key points Corey was saying before the game and now we just have to put it in effect."
Overall, the Mercury were pleased with holding the Dream to only 18.8% shooting and 31 points in the second half.
That's certainly a positive to build from asked if it was moral victory to play that well and come close to stealing the game, Penny Taylor would have none of it, "No, there's only one victory. There's only one. Winner."
Other Game Notes/Quotes:
- Corey Gaines on the Dream +9 TReb and +13 OReb, "They crashed the boards. That's what they do."
- Coach Meadors on rebounding, "That's our team. Erika and Sancho rebound the ball like crazy. They go to the boards and they are very good at it."
- Gaines on the slow start, "We played one half. We played one half. I don't know. We did not come out and play well in the first half. I don't know why."
- Down three with 5.6 seconds, Gaines designed a play to have Penny inbound the ball and then go get the ball on a hand-off screen for a three point attempt. The Dream wisely fouled and put her on the line making it a one point game. Kelly Miller hit her two free throws and the Mercury were still able to get Taurasi a tough three-point attempt at the buzzer to tie the game but she wasn't able to connect
The Dream were more than willing to run with Phoenix. Meadors, "We were trying to push the ball. What you see in Phoenix and what you see in Atlanta is two teams that push the ball."
- 97 offensive possessions for the Dream and 95 for the Mercury in a 40 minute game is extremely fast paced and the Dream pushing quickly also allowed them to attack the Phoenix zone before it could get set. At least in the first half. In the second half, Phx did a better job getting back and into a defensive posture
- Penny Taylor on the game, "In the second half we just threw it all out there and gave it all of our energy and grit and determination and it worked for us and turned the game around."
- "When we gave it our energy and gave it all of our intensity that we are used to playing with and is a characteristic of this team, it turned the game around for us. "
- Diana Taurasi on the slow start, "It's the energy in the world. Sometimes the moons aren't lined up right and we have to find a way to align them ourselves and we're not doing that right now."
- "I really believe that sometimes your body just doesn't move the right way and right now as a group we aren't all on the same page or we are all on different chapters."
- It was a physical game that the officials were allowing and the Dream did a better job taking advantage of that by using their size to contest shots in the paint. The Mercury did get to the line 32 times (Taurasi 13 and Taylor 11) but there was a lot of contact not called.
- In the second half, Nicole Ohlde played 7 minutes and didn't score and only had one rebound but her size in the paint was important. She finished with a +8 which second only to Taurasi (+11). Dupree was a -20
- Sequoia Holmes had a couple of very forgettable minutes off the bench. She looked like she was trying too hard to impress in limited time. Not an uncommon problem for young bench players
- It was nice to see Alison Bales getting solid minutes (12 min) but she still doesn't look mobile enough for that fast-paced team. Yelenda Leuchanka in 5 minutes seemed to have more upside
- The Dream remain the only undefeated team in the WNBA at 5-0 while the Mercury drop to 2-2 with their next game in Minnesota on Tuesday in another ESPN 2 broadcast game. The third of the Mercury season