Phoenix, AZ — In the last two matchups between the Phoenix Mercury and Atlanta Dream, the final score has never shown more than an eight-point difference. Sunday’s final score may seem to reflect a game with more separation, but once again it was a back-and-forth battle on the court.
Phoenix outlasted Atlanta, 84-70, to win their final regular season game before moving into the playoffs.
Falling short of a postseason berth, Atlanta came into Sunday’s game looking to close out a rather disappointing season on a high note. Lead changes were at a premium, with 17 changes throughout the game.
Brittney Sykes sparked the momentum for the Dream, contributing 10 points in the first quarter. On the opposing end, to counter Sykes’ hot shooting was Leilani Mitchell, who quickly set an aggressive pace on defense for Phoenix.
“That’s been a part of her plan all season long,” said Mercury head coach Sandy Brondello, “She really helps us just to control the tempo.”
As the first quarter came to an end, Phoenix had the slight edge, 25-24.
Immediately once the second stanza started, Monique Currie was shooting lights out for the Mercury. The veteran shot five for five in the first half, chipping in 12 points. Unfortunately for the Mercury, her impressive momentum came to a halt after Currie committed her third foul midway through the second. She wasn’t the only one causing fouls as both teams sent each other to the foul line 25 times in the first two periods.
Atlanta was fighting, but the lead still favored the home team going into intermission, 44-43.
Phoenix came into the third quarter determined to clinch the fifth seed in the playoffs and gain momentum. With less than four minutes left the pace of the game shifted in the Mercury’s favor. To begin a 12-point run by Phoenix, Brittney Griner completed a picture perfect reverse layup. On the next possession, Diana Taurasi hit a three-point jumper, creating more separation between the Mercury and the Dream.
Like a domino effect, another Phoenix player drilled a three as Stephanie Talbot added three more points to extend the lead to 12 points -- the biggest of the night.
Despite the Mercury going on a scoring spree, Atlanta showed no signs of quitting. Specifically, Sykes continued to hit shot after shot to chip away at the Mercury’s lead. At the end of the third, the Dream trailed by only seven points, 67-60.
In the final quarter, Phoenix continued to display their grit – finally closing the door once and for all on a resilient Atlanta team. Phoenix’s team cohesion continued in the final period. By the end of the game, the Mercury had dished out 16 assists compared to a mere-eight by Atlanta. The bright spot for the Dream was Sykes who had a career-night, dropping 33 points.
Although, even her 33 points couldn’t negate Griner posting another 30-point game – a team high on Sunday – and a momentum victory for the playoff-bound Mercury.
“Like I said last game, my teammates, can’t do it without them,” said Griner on her performance. “We just wanted to get the win tonight, we wanted to get a win going into the playoffs.”
Griner was joined in double-digit scoring with Currie’s 12 and Mitchell posting 18. For the Dream, the other player to score at least 10 outside of Sykes, was Tiffany Mitchell with 15.
Phoenix will look for another win on Wednesday when it hosts Seattle in the first round of the playoffs – a single elimination game. The momentum gained tonight will be huge entering the postseason.
“It’ll be a tough game for us. They’re fresh in our minds because we just played them a couple games ago,” said Mitchell, “Obviously the post-season is a whole fresh start for every team, so we have to be ready.”