Minneapolis, MN — This game was a perfect encapsulation of the problem with the Phoenix Mercury. They, for three of the game’s four quarters, held themselves to the highest possible standard. Taking the first, third, and fourth quarters into account, they were only down two points to a team that regularly beat opponents in the regular season by nearly double digits.
But they were torpedoed by one-quarter of poor play. Outscored by 16 points, 15 to 31, they would eventually lose the game by 18. From the 9:27 mark to the 5:47 mark, they did not score a single point, and gave up 16. They would find their footing from there, scoring 11 points in that remaining 5:47, but the damage was done.
One thing that hurt them was their inability to secure the offensive glass. The Lynx grabbed 36% of their own misses, a margin that would’ve led the league by a very comfortable margin. They, in contrast, grabbed only 16% of their misses, a deadly combination against a team that does so well at creating second chance scoring opportunities. The Lynx, along with being great offensive rebounders, are great on the defensive glass as well:
“We’re the best defensive-rebounding team in the league. We pride ourselves on that. We should get every rebound when you have Maya [Moore], Brunson and [Sylvia Fowles]… and they take great pride in it,” said Lynx head coach Cheryl Reeve
A quick primer: effective field goal percentage (EFG%) holds that three point shots are worth more than two points (weird) and weight the percentage accordingly. The formula, for the zero of you who are interested, is (FGM + 0.5 * 3 PM) / FGA.
Minnesota had an EFG% of 68, which would’ve led all teams by 15%. The Lynx made 6-12 three pointers, and 32-59 two pointers, percentages of 50 and 54, respectively. They did whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted, especially in their 31 and 34 point second and third quarters.
However, as negative as this sounds for the Mercury, it’s important to remember this was one-quarter in an otherwise tight game. The Phoenix are much closer to the team that scored 34 in the third than 15 in the second; they will go on scoring streaks that take your breath away, and make you wonder why they’re the eighth seed. Then they score 15, or give up 65 points in two-quarters, and it becomes apparent.
The numbers, outside of that one awful quarter, suggest a more rosy future for Phoenix. They shot 57% from three, and 53% overall. They had a slightly lower turnover rate, and a marginally better turnover-to-assist rate.
The difference between the teams was the seven extra field goals taken and made by the Lynx. This series, for better or worse, is going to come down to offensive rebounding. If Phoenix can protect their own, they’ll have a real shot at winning the series. If they don’t, it’ll be over in three.