The pace or tempo a basketball game is played at can be dictated by many factors and is usually something that both teams talk about and game plan for heading into a contest. Every little thing gets magnified in a one-and-done playoff format, and who is able to control the pace is just as important as how each team tries to do it.
The tempo of Sunday afternoon’s Connecticut Sun versus Phoenix Mercury Second Round playoff game started off incredibly fast-paced, as the Sun had their way through the first 15 minutes of the contest. Ultimately, the Mercury made more plays down the stretch to advance to the Semifinals, 88-83.
“We wanted to take their legs away and keep the game uptempo as much as possible,” Sun coach Curt Miller said. “They were the ones that made big threes in the fourth quarter. They made three big threes in one stretch that I thought was the back-breaker, and that was something that we were trying with our tempo and our pace to try to take away.”
Even though the Sun were unable to advance in their first playoff appearance in five seasons, the youthful Connecticut team used their athleticism to jump out to a 17-point lead in the second quarter.
“The first quarter it was at their pace,” Mercury coach Sandy Brondello said. “(They were) running in transition and getting really easy baskets in the paint. We just weren't really effective on offense.”
Phoenix came out of their timeout down nearly 20 points and flipped a switch. Taurasi started to take over, scoring 19 of her 23 points in the final three-quarters. What changed the pace and direction of Sunday’s game were something neither team could really control in their pregame plans: experience.
“There comes times in games when you have to make a choice: are you going to lay down or fight back?” Taurasi said. “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.”
That experience and mental toughness are very hard to teach without the players themselves actually having gone through it. The Mercury is full of players who have taken part in their fair share of big games, so Sunday was nothing new. It was more about Phoenix’s players having the continuity needed to advance.
“I think in the last 5 or 6 games we have really found our niche and what pace we wanted to play at,” Mercury forward Camille Little said. “It’s not always about going up and down and making the first play, but it’s about using Brittney Griner. Making sure our scorers get the ball in the right places also helps us get on defense, it helps us make shots and take better shots. That controls the tempo of the game.”
Veteran leadership is one thing, but having superstar players like Griner and Taurasi also does not hurt. Taurasi is not only one of the best to ever play, or as her coach called her the “Goat,” but she is also now 11-0 in winner-take-all games.
“You don't want to be in this position where you have to win two elimination games to get to the Semifinals, but we've been able to do it and well take confidence from that,” Taurasi said.
“It doesn’t get any easier, it only gets harder, and we know that.
With Taurasi leading the way, the Mercury have the experience and the talent to not only control the tempo of games but also control their own destiny in the rest of the 2017 WNBA Playoffs.
“It’s not easy going through the playoffs against really good teams,” Taurasi said. “I think this team is up for it, and whatever comes ahead of us we’ll be ready for it.”