The Mercury weren’t perfect in their opening-round elimination of the Indiana Fever, but Wednesday’s victory at Banker’s Life Fieldhouse was a result of some things Phoenix did really well—and the talent that’s on this roster.
1. DB in the Fourth
The Mercury trailed by three points at halftime and DeWanna Bonner’s impact on the game hadn’t been felt yet. The team’s leading scorer last year, Bonner selflessly went to the bench two weeks ago in a change that inserted Marta Xargay into the starting lineup and moved the WNBA’s soon-to-be-all-time-leading-scorer, Diana Taurasi, off the ball.
But Bonner had just four points at halftime and was a -10 plus/minus in her time on the floor (the Mercury were outscored by 10 points in her first-half minutes). But the Mercury took control of the game in the second half behind the assertiveness of Bonner. She scored seven of the Mercury’s first 10 fourth-quarter points, part of a run that turned a two-point Phoenix lead to start the quarter into a 10-point lead. She played all 10 fourth-quarter minutes, was a perfect 4-of-4 from the field and 3-of-3 from the line, finished with 14 second-half points and was a +12 plus/minus in her time on the floor.
That’s making a difference.
2. BG Down Low
At 6-foot-9, Brittney Griner presents a host of issues for opposing defenses. One of the league’s best defensive teams and known for its trademark toughness, Indiana seemed to play BG one-on-one for most of the game, choosing instead to stay home on Phoenix’s explosive perimeter players.
What that translated to for Phoenix was an aggressive BG, who made 7-of-11 shots, 4-of-5 free throws, grabbed nine boards and blocked three shots. She was a force on both ends of the floor and finished a +15 plus/minus. BG was the main force behind a 42-32 Mercury advantage in points in the paint.
It was more of a good trend for Phoenix fans, who saw Griner finish the regular season by scoring 15 or more points in a career-high tying five consecutive games. Her improved health and strength as the season went on and a confidence-building run to the gold with Team USA boosted BG to post-Olympic averages of 17.0 points, 7.6 rebounds and 3.40 blocks (final 10 games).
3. That Defense Though and Short Memories
It was an up-and-down regular season for the Mercury, to be sure, but one of the low points would have to be Indiana’s visit to Talking Stick Resort Arena on July 8. The X-Factor was pretty vocal in its frustration after a 78-60 drubbing at the hands of the Fever in which Indiana shot 47.1 percent from the field, scored 50 second-half points, and ran to 36 points off Mercury turnovers.
But you don’t have to be a finished product during the regular season—you just have to learn from poor performances (and good performances) and keep working, as Mercury Head Coach Sandy Brondello always says. Case in point: Phoenix won both subsequent meetings with the Fever after that blowout, both on the Fever’s home floor, including Wednesday. In eliminating Indiana, Phoenix held the Fever to just 37.2 percent shooting, 40 second-half points, and surrendered just 15 points off turnovers.
4. The G.O.A.T.
By virtually any statistical measure, Diana Taurasi will someday finish her WNBA career as the greatest ever to play. But since individual statistics don’t much matter to her, try this one on for size: 43-4. That’s Taurasi’s record in win-or-go-home games—the winner keeps playing (or wins it all) and the loser is done for the season. Including the NCAA Tournament, Olympic tournaments and the WNBA Playoffs, Taurasi and her team are now 43-4 in those games, including Wednesday’s win over Indiana.
Her WNBA record in those games: 8-0 (games listed below)
Game 5, 2007 WNBA Finals
Game 3, 2009 Semis
Game 3, 2009 Conference Finals
Game 5, 2009 WNBA Finals
Game 3, 2011 Semis
Game 3, 2013 Semis
Game 3, 2014 Conference Finals
First-Round Single-Elimination, 2016
Improving to 44-4 with a win in New York on Saturday will take a supreme effort from Taurasi and her teammates, but come on… at this point, there is only one answer to the question: “Which player would you want on your team if you have to win one game with your season on the line?”