The Phoenix Mercury are 0-2 on the season and the time has come to push the tempo. Of course, coach Corey Gaines would tell you that there was never a time his team wasn't supposed to be pushing the tempo but in his team's first two games he feels it's not been there consistently.
"I was shocked on our offense. 10 points (in the second quarter against L.A.). We're having a little trouble scoring right now," Gaines said after practice on Monday when asked which part of the game (offense or defense) he was most displeased with in Friday's loss to the Sparks.
If there was any question that the Mercury were going to respond to allowing the Sparks to score 98 points on 49 percent shooting with an increased emphasis on defense, Gaines put that to rest. He's an offensive-minded coach who believes that great offense will beat great defense every time.
The question now is if the 2011 Mercury can put a great offense on the floor. Gaines certainly thinks so and isn't close to pushing the panic button, but what does Diana Taurasi think?
I always wonder just how much the Geno Auriemma-trained Diana Taurasi buys into "offense first" so I asked her the same question I asked Gaines.
After giving a politically correct answer about "good and bad from both sides of the ball", Taurasi went on to echo her coach's approach.
"We definitely want to speed up the tempo like the first quarter, that's the way we want to play."
The two teams combined for 61 points in the first ten minutes of the game Friday and each shot 60 percent. The Mercury got off five more attempts while the Sparks had six more free throw attempts.
(And no, the calls weren't bogus. Of the four fouls the Mercury committed in the quarter, all were legit. Braxton fouled Parker after getting beat on a spin move. Taylor fouled Thompson in the post after giving up deep position. Bonner fouled Thompson coming off a pump fake three. Bonner fouled Milton-Jones in the post on a pump fake.)
So, is both teams shooting 60 percent Mercury basketball? The answer seems to be, yes.
"We have to, we have to get back to shooting more shots. Up tempo. Our defense is better (this year)," Gaines said.
Defensively, Gaines pointed out that the Sparks hit 13 threes for 39 points, "I doubt they make 39 points on threes again...What happened was, they got hot and then we were on them and they still hit the three with contests, hand in the air."
Looking at all 13 threes the Sparks made (via Synergy Sports Tech), there's a case to be made for L.A. just "being hot" but it's not a good one. They got three open hits in transition, three open looks out of post play, and three open looks against the zone or double teams. That's nine of 13 makes that were open shots. They made four that you could consider "contested".
According to Synergy's game data, the Mercury had five total uncontested shots in the game while the Sparks had a total of 13. It seems more like a case of the Sparks hitting the outside shots the Mercury defense gave them in the first half (9-15) while they contained Candace Parker (2-7). In the second half that formula flipped and the Mercury did a better job defending the outside shot (4-13) but Parker went off for 15 points (6-10).
But who really cares about defense anyway?
"We're not getting enough shots up, but we worked on that this week. Offense is the least thing I'm worried about. It will come around. We've had droughts before," Gaines said. He went on to point out the irony of being plus seven on the glass and still losing the game.
"It's funny, all those years we were getting out-rebounded by 15 and winning. Now we are winning the rebounding and losing the game so what's more important?"
The answer isn't getting more stops.
The answer is getting more shot attempts by cutting down turnovers, moving without the ball, pushing off made shots, but according to Gaines, "(you) can't say we need more rebounds"...at least against the Sparks. The Storm were plus 10 on the glass.
It should also be noted that the pace of Friday's game was already high. There were a total of 85.7 possession in the 40 minute contest. Last year's fastest team, the Atlanta Dream, averaged 82.8 per game according to Kevin Pelton's Storm Tracker blog.
The Mercury's 73 shot attempts in the game was more than their 2010 (71.5) or 2009 (72.2) average and the 1.825 shots per minute was more than the 1.792 per minute the league-leading Golden State Warriors took in this past NBA season.
The real issue isn't attempts or pace, it's efficiency. The Mercury shot over 46% from the field in the last two seasons but are at 42% in their first two games. In other words, the (offensive) problem isn't quantity of shots, it's quality.
Taurasi chalks it up all up to the new faces.
"This style of play is funny. It's takes a little bit longer to get used to, to make sure you're confident in doing it and we're getting there," she said. "Even though we haven't changed a lot of faces, the faces we've changed are major roles."
While it doesn't seem like the roster has had much turnover, Taurasi points out that they are still trying to integrate Kara Braxton in her first full season as well as Nakia Sanford and Marie Ferdinand-Harris. Sanford didn't play in the loss to the Sparks but Ferdinand-Harris is clearly still adjusting to her role. She's 3-12 on the season and Braxton isn't much better (6-16).
As for her own sub-par 2-9 shooting game against the Sparks, Taurasi said, "I really got some good looks and missed them. I probably wasn't as aggressive as I usually am for whatever reason."