UNCASVILLE, Connecticut-- After being down by as many as 17 points on Sunday afternoon, the Phoenix Mercury came back to top the Connecticut Sun, 88-83, in their second-round single-elimination game.
Perhaps the biggest factor in the win was the way that the Mercury worked to establish their pace in the second half of the game in particular.
In the first quarter, the Sun jumped out to a commanding 29-18 lead after controlling the speed of the game.
The fast-paced, full-court contest allowed Connecticut to thrive in their transition offense, and also put Jonquel Jones in a great position for success. At halftime she already notched her 21st double-double of the season with 11 points and 12 rebounds. She ended the afternoon with 19 points and a game-high 15 boards.
After intermission, however, was when Phoenix really began to slow the game down to take control offensively. As a result, Brittney Griner and Diana Taurasi were able to turn on the jets.
Griner recorded just two points in the first quarter, but ended the afternoon with 26 points and nine rebounds. Taurasi had just four points in the frame and ended the game with 23 points and four assists.
Perhaps ESPN’s Rebecca Lobo best summed up the game during the third quarter as the Mercury were in the midst of their comeback when she said, “if Diana Taurasi is on the floor, your team has a chance to win.”
It was clear that the first-half deficit lit the competitive fire inside Taurasi, as she worked to slow down the game with smart shot selection and playmaking, and ensured that her teammates got to the free throw line. She shot eight free throws while Griner shot 14. Taurasi is also now 11-0 in close out games for her career.
“We were down 37-20 in the second and we called a time out and I think everyone was just searching for something,” Taurasi said.
“There comes a time in games if you are just going to lay down or fight back and try to get back into it, and that moment we said let’s just go back, take each possession, and try to do our best and we did that and that turned the game around.”
Griner struggled early on both ends of the floor, as Connecticut worked to double team her, and Jones continued to draw her out of the lane and onto the wing on defense.
In the second quarter, however, Connecticut’s double team began wearing down and Griner was able to find success down low, scoring 11 points in the second frame and 13 in the third.
As the Mercury continued to chip away at the lead, they would take their first lead of the game with about 30 seconds left in the third stanza. In a back and fourth final 10 minutes, they were able to hang on as Connecticut was forced to foul and struggled to manage the pace.
Following the first quarter offensive disparity, the Mercury went on to outscore Connecticut in the next three.
“That first quarter wasn’t really what we had planned, but we knew Connecticut is a great young team” Phoenix head coach Sandy Brondello said.
“We knew they would come out with a lot of energy, they made a lot of shots. Once we got back to executing what we wanted to execute, we kept them to 33 points in the second half and that was big for us.”
Phoenix’s next opponent will be determined following the second-round game between the New York Liberty and Washington Mystics.