Uncasville, CT — A combined 49 points from the Phoenix Mercury’s Diana Taurasi and Brittney Griner was enough to knock the Connecticut Sun out of the Second Round of the playoffs Sunday afternoon, 88-83. The Mercury hit huge three-pointers down the stretch in the fourth and were able to erase a 17-point second quarter deficit to move on to the Semifinals.
For a team with many players who had never experienced the WNBA Playoffs, the Sun came out looking very comfortable in front of their home crowd, scoring on nearly every one of their first five possessions.
Recently named Most Improved Player this season, Jonquel Jones, was having her way early with Brittney Griner. Jones’ success allowed the Sun to hold an 11-point lead through the first ten minutes. Jones had a double-double at halftime, finishing with 19 points and 15 rebounds.
The second quarter started with more of the same: a Mercury team looking not in sync, as Connecticut opened up a 37-20 lead only two and a half minutes into the period.
“We called a timeout (down by 17), and I think everyone was just searching for something,” Diana Taurasi said. “There comes times in games when you have to make a choice: are you going to lay down or fight back? I think that moment we just said, ‘let’s take each possession and try to do our best.’ We did that, and that little bit turned the game around for us.”
Griner and Taurasi picked their play up from this point on, and it was Taurasi who was visibly engaged scoring nine points in the frame, including two and-1’s.
Griner was pivotal in keeping the Mercury within striking distance in the second quarter, and then put her stamp on the game in the third. Phoenix entered the second half down seven. After running the offense through Griner in the post for much of the third quarter, the Mercury took their first lead of the game, 68-66. Griner scored 12 of her 26 in the third.
“We had some words with her at halftime,” Mercury coach Sandy Brondello said. “(Jonquel) Jones was pushing her outside the paint and they were bringing an early trap. For (Griner) to be effective, she has to be physical.”
Both teams picked up the physicality and execution in the fourth, being within two points of each other for much of the final quarter. With the Sun down by one, Taurasi stroked a three-pointer from the wing to give the Mercury a four-point lead with three to go. Taurasi finished with 23 points.
Out of the Sun timeout, Alyssa Thomas answered with a layup, but Monique Curry continued her hot shooting, connecting on a three of her own to give Phoenix a five-point lead, their largest lead of the game to that point.
The Sun had a chance to tie the game down by three in the final 30
seconds, but were unable to get up a shot on that possession before they were fouled. It was the noticeably tighter defense by the Mercury,
who seemed to get their hands in many more passing lanes after halftime.
Clogging the lanes, plus a more efficient offense, -- running exclusively through Griner -- was a big reason why Phoenix was able to advance.
“We lost tonight, and I feel like we won at the same time,” Sun coach Curt Miller said. “We’re starting something very very special here. This year is only the beginning, and I am looking forward to the future.”