Atlanta, GA — The Phoenix Mercury had high energy in their warm-ups, full of zest and zeal ... but once the game started, it did not carry over against the Atlanta Dream. Diana Taurasi’s contagious energy pregame, suddenly turned into irritation in the first half.
“I think it’s all about just coming out of the gates,” said Phoenix Head Coach Sandy Brondello. “I just didn’t think we had the energy coming out of the gate. They played with a little bit more sense of urgency than us.”
This irritation came from the referees failing to call fouls both ways. This took the Mercury out of their game in the first half. The Dream were able to contain Taurasi with 13 points and Brittney Griner with eight points. The two have been playing great since returning from the Olympic break, so already limiting them was very helpful for Atlanta.
With that frustration building, along with Taurasi and her other teammates, it did not dissipate, as the Dream ran all over the Mercury with 19 fast break points in the first half alone.
Now we all know Phoenix is capable of making their opponents work for their points with their remarkable, suffocating defense – especially with Griner as the last line of defense.
However, Atlanta was ready; it was almost as if they were one step ahead of the Mercury’s defensive gameplan
“They played aggressive,” said Taurasi. “They did certain things that hurt us. They didn’t do anything special. There are things that we need to take care of like transition defense and second-chance points.”
Once the second half began, I was expecting Phoenix to come out a different team, but there was no change in pace. Atlanta wouldn’t relent, they just kept their foot on the gas, continuing to maintain separation from Mercury.
Do not get me wrong, the Mercury fought, even being down for the majority of the game, they kept themselves within a few possessions of the Dream.
Phoenix cut down Atlanta’s largest lead of 12 points. However, they were not utilizing one of their biggest advantages: Griner.
It is no secret that Griner is 6’9”, because of her wingspan, she can effect the game on two fronts offensively: scoring in the paint and offensive rebounds. However, tonight that was not the case, particularly since she struggled to gain extra possessions for her team. In fact, she did not have any offensive boards the entire game, talk about a rarity.
Now, she was still a large threat for the Mercury, but on the other side of the ball. Griner stepped up and played solid defense, swatting away six shots on the night. She also was the second highest scorer for her team behind Taurasi with 21 points.
Even though Griner had a plethora of blocks on the night, that still didn’t stop rookie Bria Holmes for going off for Atlanta. The young forward put up 18 points for the Dream.
“I just came in for Sancho [Lyttle] to start,” said Holmes. “I just had to keep the momentum for a player that’s hurt. [I] just needed to come out and play my game of basketball.”
In the last two minutes of the game, the opportunity for Phoenix to change the outcome was more than attainable. Taurasi cut down the score to 1 twice (one clutch three and two free throws, which gave her 23 points), but it all came down to who wanted it more.
And the team that wanted it more was the Atlanta Dream – more specifically Tiffany Hayes. Hayes got to her strong hand with 24.7 seconds remaining and drove past Lindsey Harding to the paint. On the way up, Harding fouled Hayes who finished the tough left-handed layup.
After Hayes completed the and-one play, Phoenix called a timeout with a chance to still win the game.
The problem for the Mercury: they took too long to score. Candice Dupree scored on a putback, but that was their third attempt in this offensive sequence. Phoenix had to foul after to stop the clock. But, once again Hayes stepped up to the line and this time drilled two free-throws to ice the game for Atlanta.
Taurasi, Griner, and Dupree all had another chance to make a basket before the final buzzer sounded, but it didn’t come to fruition.
With the win, the Dream have now moved into fifth place in the WNBA standings and Phoenix is in seventh place. Atlanta returns to action Thursday night at Los Angles. Tip-off is set for 10:30 pm ET. The Mercury will not play again until Sunday, September 11th when they face Atlanta again. Tip-off is set for 5 pm ET.