Coach Gaines thought the pace of the game eventually caught up with the San Antonio team, "There's comes a point in a game where a team can't go anymore and that's where we turn it up and that's what happened."
That was actually Gaines talking about the Mercury win over the Silver Stars in the very first game of the regular season. He said the same thing tonight almost word for word after his team turned it up in the fourth quarter to erase a six point deficit and win the game 100-92.
I'm often critical of this style of offense-oriented basketball but so far, the Mercury are making it work. Just as they did in 2007 when the won the WNBA championship.
It helps considerably when you have the kind of depth that Gaines has at his disposal; the Mercury bench out-scored the Silver Stars reserves 26 to 4. Gaines was able to rest his versatile rookie DeWanna Bonner and cagey vet Penny Taylor until about the 6 minute mark of the 4th quarter. At that point the score was within 3 points.
That extra burst of energy and talent was the difference in this series and has been a key advantage for the Mercury all season long.
Phoenix needed it after seeing the Silver Stars play a great game for about 35 minutes. They shot lights out from three (13-21, 67%) and played solid transition defense. In the third quarter they outscored the home team 27-23 as they slowed the game and played beautiful San Antonio basketball lead by Vicky Johnson and Becky Hammon who combined for 10 of the Silver Stars 13 three-point field goals.
Silver Stars Coach Dan Hughes said this about his team's play, "We had some people do some things. They had players that did some things. You've got to give the Mercury credit. I think we created the type of game that we wanted to play. I thought the Mercury were still affective late in the game to get the separation that they did. I'm really proud of my team though. They did a lot of things well in this game it just wasn't enough. That's the type of team that Phoenix has. You have to hit the mark in a lot of ways to beat them. We got close but we couldn't get it done. Give Phoenix a lot of credit."
The turning point in the game came after that third quarter which Taurasi described saying the, "wheels came off". To start the fourth the Mercury quickly closed the gap with two huge three point shots. After a foul shot from Ann Wauters the Stars were up 73-72 with 8:05 in the game.
From there the Mercury went on a 18-6 run over the next 3:51 to take an 11-point lead which was their largest of the night. During that run Tangela Smith had 6 points and 4 rebounds to add to her stellar overall performance.
This was by far Tangela's best game of the season. She's had higher scoring totals than the 16 points she recorded in this contest but her activity level on the defensive end and on the glass was a real difference in the win.
Throughout the regular season players like Ann Wauters, who Taurasi described as one of the best centers in the world, abused Smith in the paint. This series though the 12 year veteran has really turned up the intensity. Only a cramp in the final few minutes of the game kept her off the floor at the end.
I've been critical of Smith's play all season but she's certainly come alive in the playoffs. The Mercury are going to need a similar performance from her against the big front line of the LA Sparks.
The Silver Stars were still able to close the game to within 5 points with 1:42 left before Penny Taylor and Nicole Ohlde combined to recover a rebound to keep possession at that critical point. Taylor then drove the lane and put two more points on the board for the Mercury. After Becky Hammon hit yet another three point shot, Taylor once again grabbed a big board off a missed free throw to seal the win for the Mercury.
Phoenix goes on to face the LA Sparks in the Western Conference Finals. Game 1 will be in LA on Wednesday with Games 2 and 3 back in Phoenix on Friday and Sunday. Here's the full schedule:
Western Conference Finals Schedule
- Game 1 - Wed. Sept. 23 Phoenix at Los Angeles 7 p.m. 10 p.m. ESPN2
- Game 2 - Fri. Sept. 25 Los Angeles at Phoenix 7 p.m. 10 p.m. NBA TV
- Game 3 * Sat. Sept. 26 Los Angeles at Phoenix 7 p.m. 10 p.m. NBA TV
The one sore spot for Phoenix was the small crowd. The official attendance was listed 6,896 (which seemed about right) despite $1 tickets being made available by the team. There have been far bigger crowds during the regular season which I don't understand. Those fans that did come though can be proud. They were loud and gave the team a real boost. Those that didn't come, missed a fantastic playoff game.
Phoenix, I am calling you out. Next Friday you had better show up in greater numbers. 7,000 people for a playoff elimination game is an embarrassment to this city.
Post Game Audio
There's some great stuff in here from Cappie and DT cutting it up to a very heartfelt farewell from Coach Dan Hughes to the retiring Vicky Johnson. Vicky was all smiles and was a class act. San Antonio is going to have a hard time replacing her.
If you are fans of this game, you really should at least listen to VJ's final thoughts on her great career. Bravo to her.
[Note by Phoenix Stan, 09/22/09 7:15 AM MST ]
Morning after thoughts
- During the third period the Stars were playing out of their minds. You know how teams go 110% at the end of a close game? They were doing that. I remember wondering if they could sustain that for 15 more minutes. Answer was no
- As great as the Stars played during that stretch I think it's important to credit the Mercury for hanging tough and not letting them get separation. They kept it within 5 or 6 so that it only took about couple of quick 3's to tie the game
- To close the game for the final 4 minutes Corey went with what Cappie called the "power line up" of Cappie, DT, Penny, Bonner and Smith/Ohlde
- During that stretch he stopped calling plays. He put the ball in Cappie's hands and told her to go win the game
- San Antonio did well to weather that storm and keep it close. They ran a brilliant side pick and roll with Hammon and Wauters bringing another player to back pick Tangela so she couldn't roll with Wauters. The result was Ann getting wide open at the rim
- They also scored on a run out when Young out ran Smith for an easy lay up but by that point Smith was spent and cramped. Ohlde was already at the scorers table waiting to check in. That play forced Gaines to call a 20 sec time out to get Smith off the floor