If Saturday, for better or worse, was Mamba Day, Sunday was White Mamba Day. Diana Taurasi, whose claim to GOAT-ness is well-earned and unquestioned, returned to the lineup as the Phoenix Mercury took on the Chicago Sky.
But the Sky would be unfazed by Taurasi’s return and reputation, winning 94-86.
At the close of a tightly-contested first quarter, DT registered her first points of the game and first field goal of the season, coming around a Brittney Griner screen to hit an elbow jumper. On Phoenix’s next possession, she drew a foul and converted the pair of free throws. Her quartet of points helped give the Mercury a 24-19 lead at the end of the first.
Early in the second quarter, Taurasi appeared to further prove that her back feels just fine, going coast to coast for the bucket. She finished the first half with 10 points and a trio of assists.
Coming off their best win of the season, a convincing victory over the Washington Mystics on Friday, Chicago played with energy and emotion on both ends of the floor. Astou Ndour impressed early. Again starting in place of the injured Jantel Lavender, Ndour took advantage of Phoenix’s weakness on the boards to secure second chances for her squad.
However, the combinations of Ndour, Stefanie Dolson and Cheyenne Parker struggled to contain Brittney Griner. BG scored 20 points in the first half. DeWanna Bonner chipped in 10 points, exhibiting her signature ability to make tough shots.
Allie Quigley used her sweet midrange shooting to keep Chicago within striking distance. Only four first-half points from Diamond DeShields and two from Courtney Vandersloot underscored the importance of Quigley’s 16-point effort.
The Sky trailed 54-46 at the half.
In the third quarter, DeShields quickly compensated for her quiet first half, scoring 10 points. As did Vandersloot, putting in five points. Sloot also got the ball moving for the Sky, handing out five assists in the period.
Chicago also used its aggressiveness on the glass to their advantage. Taking to the boards helped Chicago take the lead midway through the quarter. For the game, the Sky secured 47 rebounds, a season-high. Cheyenne Parker led the team with 12.
The third closed with Chicago in the lead, 74-69.
As has been the case for much of the season, Phoenix could not generate much offense outside of Griner and Bonner. The Mercury, who only totaled 15 points in the third quarter, were particularly anemic when Griner sat. BG finished with a game-high, and season-high, 34 points. Bonner had a double-double, with 18 points and 11 rebounds.
The halftime break did not seem to serve Taurasi well. After finding a rhythm in the first half, she was out of sync, struggling to get her shots to fall. She finished with 12 points on 2-of-13 shooting, including 0-for-6 from three.
Midway through the fourth quarter, Mercury head coach Sandy Brondello turned to her most reliable lineup of late: Griner, Bonner, Leilani Mitchell, Briann January and Brianna Turner. This fivesome used a brief offensive flurry to cut the Sky’s lead to one. With just over three minutes to go, Brondello, understandably, went back to Taurasi, hoping she could find her form and drill some daggers. But the GOAT could not work her magic. While all their shots seemed just to rim out, it was Mercury’s inability to stop the Sky that ultimately sunk them.
In securing their third straight win, the Sky demonstrated why they will be a dangerous playoff matchup. The still-young team has begun to consistently close out games and use their combination of ability and effort to claim victories.
Quigley finished with a team-high 24 points. DeShields and Parker contributed 18 and 14 points, respectively. Vandersloot tallied 13 assists.
And, although all is well in a win, it is curious that Gabby Williams only played approximately 10 minutes. In the postseason, Williams’ ability to run the offense for the second unit could present interesting matchup problems, making it pertinent that she continue to get reps. New addition Kayla Alexander also did not see any action.
After an uncharacteristic loss in Chicago on Wednesday, the first time Elena Delle Donne has fallen to her former team, the Mystics returned to form. And then some. Washington showed off their scoring superiority, getting contributions across the lineup in their evisceration of the Liberty. Delle Donne, unsurprisingly, turned in an ever-steady effort, tallying a double-double of 22 points and 10 rebounds. Off the bench, Tianna Hawkins added 15 points and five assists, with Emma Meesseman also contributing 14 points. At least one positive for New York was the shooting of Kia Nurse, who drained a career-high six threes on her way to 24 points.
Of late, Atlanta has appeared to use their frustration as fuel. Following a 12-game losing streak, the Dream now have won two in a row on the road. Of course, they could not escape the inconsistencies that have characterized their season, relinquishing a 20-point lead to give the Wings and, more specifically, Arike Ogunbowale an opportunity to steal the game. Although she finished with a game-high 29 points, Ogunbowale’s final attempts did not fall. For the Dream, Tiffany Hayes worked her way to free throw line 15 times, scoring 12 of her 23 points from the stripe.
Connecticut was unable to carry the momentum they seemed to generate with Friday night’s win over Las Vegas against a fully-loaded Los Angeles team. For the second time this season, Sparks head coach Derek Fisher was able to call on his full complement of players and, in the process, these players showed how scary they can be. Riquna Williams, playing for the second time since her 10-game suspension for a domestic assault arrest, led LA with 21 points. Nneka Ogwumike added 16 points, eight boards and four steals. Despite the loss, Courtney Williams continued to cook for Connecticut, scoring 18 points, grabbing nine boards and tossing five assists.
In the weekend’s most surprising result, the Lynx routed the Aces from the get-go. As a team, Minnesota shot nearly 60 percent from the field, propelling it to a season-high 98 points. Napheesa Collier and Danielle Robinson each had 23 points, with Robinson also adding eight assists. Sylvia Fowles was a team-best plus 12, with 14 points and six rebounds. Las Vegas, in contrast, struggled to score. The duo of Cambage and Wilson combined for only 23 points. The usually reliable Kayla McBride scored a season-low four points.
As the score indicates, offense was hard to come by in this game. Nevertheless, Indiana head coach Pokey Chatman likely saw some things that pleased her. Playing almost 35 minutes, a season-high, rookie Teaira McCowan posted one of her best games of the season, scoring 22 points and grabbing 18 rebounds. Kelsey Mitchell demonstrated her potential as an off-the-bench spark, registering a team-best plus 16 as she put in 13 points. On the other side, not much pleased Seattle head coach Dan Hughes. The Storm suffered through their worst shooting performance of the season, converting only 18 of 63 field goal attempts. Jewell Loyd was an especially icy 1-for-7, finding her way to only four points. Natasha Howard did not have much more luck, scoring 14 points on 4-of-15 shooting.
Where things stand
With two weeks left in the regular season, the eight playoff teams are all but officially confirmed. The order, however, is still very much unsettled. The combination of a Washington win and Connecticut loss gave the Mystics a one-game lead for first place. A second straight loss for Las Vegas and a second straight win for Los Angeles allowed the Sparks to jump the Aces in the standings, putting the LA in third and LV in fourth. Chicago is approaching both these teams, sitting just a half-game behind in fifth place. Despite the loss, the Storm clinched a playoff berth and remain in the sixth spot. Minnesota remains ahead of Phoenix for the seventh seed.
A five-game Tuesday promises to add further intrigue to playoff positioning, headlined by the Sparks traveling east to face the Mystics and the Sky heading north to meet the Lynx. After facing the Liberty on Tuesday, the Mercury play the Dream on Thursday, presenting Phoenix with two winnable games. Sparks-Fever and Wings-Sky complete Thursday’s slate before the Sun take on the Liberty on Friday.