Phoenix, Arizona — After a close game between the Atlanta Dream and Phoenix Mercury last Tuesday, the Mercury hoped to regain their dominance as they invited Atlanta to their home court at Talking Stick Resort Arena.
Tensions were high at Talking Stick Resort Arena, as the two teams had split in their previous matchups this season. However, it was clear that Phoenix was going to give everything they had to defend their home court on Sunday night, and inch even closer to the playoffs.
Between the lineup change, inserting fast-paced Marta Xargay, the Mercury set up quite the impressive starting five. That change, coupled with Atlanta losing their star player, gave Phoenix the win they were looking for.
“Our season has been one of ups and downs,” said Dream coach Michael Cooper. “I thought we started the season off right, and then we went on a six-game slide, but I think we’ve done a good job of recuperating and getting into this position. Our goal right now to finish out the last three games is to get that fourth playoff spot and kind of stay there, because again, we could use the rest.
“But whatever the basketball gods have for us, we’re ready, committed, and we’re going to make a good run.”
Despite the lack of firepower from their firestarter Diana Taurasi, Candice Dupree and Penny Taylor were to thank for a steady hand — and lead — over Atlanta in the first quarter. Taylor, in her final WNBA season, continues to prove that she will definitely be missed by this Mercury team.
After a struggling start, Atlanta stormed into the second quarter with confidence, making it a tie game halfway through the quarter. However, Taylor, with 10 points already this game, just wouldn’t allow the Dream to capitalize on any sustained momentum. Her play energized Phoenix and stymied the Dream, but that was the least of Atlanta’s problems.
Dream superstar, Angel McCoughtry, who has been known for losing her cool, received her second technical foul and was ejected from the game.
From there, the Mercury took control of the game, performing flawlessly, as they went on a fierce 18-0 run against Atlanta. Between Griner’s relentless blocking and Xargay’s unstoppable speed, the Mercury ended the half on a 15-point lead – 49-34.
“She brings speed, she pushes it,” said Griner. ‘She just brings a different aspect to the game—just like everyone in here. Plug them in and there will be something different that we can do.”
The Dream started the second half strong with a 6-2 run, as they closed the deficit to single digits early in the third quarter. At this point, both Bria Holmes and Hayes really stepped up, as they continued to chip away.
With Atlanta starting to get into a rhythm, it seemed that things were swinging in their favor. Two controversial calls on Taurasi, a technical foul and a charge, it was apparent that Phoenix had to step up or risk losing their double-digit lead — and maybe the game
But Phoenix had a secret weapon in the form of Xargay, who returned to the game, and proved to be a vital contributor. Her play along with the dominant play of Griner, who shined as usual - her 21 points gave Phoenix a 16-point lead over the Dream at the end of the third.
Atlanta’s fought valiantly throughout the last quater, but they just couldn’t overcome the massive hill they dug earlier. The Mercury overwhelmed Atlanta 86-75, to end the Mercury’s three-game losing streak.
Sandy Brondello reflected on the game with a realistic approach: “It was a good team effort. Obviously, we had good individual contributions, but if we are a unit at both ends of the floor, we look much better. Playing unselfishly, moving the ball, and playing with the speed.
Don’t forget to catch both of these teams this Tuesday, September 13th, as the Atlanta Dream will host the San Antonio Stars at 7:00 p.m. EST, while the Phoenix Mercury will travel to Los Angeles to take on the Sparks at 10:30 p.m. EST.