With Thanksgiving upon us, we take a look back at the five things we’re most thankful for from the 2016 season.
While we can’t say we’re super grateful Penny retired, we couldn’t be more thankful that she chose to do it in a Mercury uniform. We couldn’t be more thankful for the player she is/was—the first to dive on the floor after a loose ball, her body-sacrificing drives to the basket, her willingness to play any position and do whatever it took to win. And that’s just to name a few. We wouldn’t have three banners and three trophies without Penny Taylor. And we also wouldn’t have the same relationship with our fans because everyone gravitated toward the Australian who, despite not being drafted by the Mercury, will forever be on the franchise’s Mount Rushmore. Most of all, the Mercury organization is thankful for the send-off the fans gave Penny, and thankful that we’re just months away from her official retirement ceremony in 2017.
Single-Elimination Games (when you win…)
The WNBA’s new playoff format that debuted in 2016 wasn’t every fan’s favorite, but goodness gracious was it exciting for the Mercury. As the eighth-seeded team, the Mercury’s path to the Semifinals required two road wins against bruising Eastern Conference powers, eight consecutive days on the road (never came home after the regular season finale or between playoff games), and virtuoso performances by Brittney Griner (20.0 points, 9.5 rebounds, 3.50 blocks, 64.0 percent shooting from the field in two single-elimination games) and Diana Taurasi (25.0 points, 52.0 percent from the field, 46.7 percent from three, 17-of-17 from the free-throw line in two single-elimination games). And was Diana ever in her element at The Garden, dropping 30 points in 32 minutes, including an absolute dagger fourth-quarter three.
BG with the bling
Brittney Griner was the Mercury’s best player after returning from Rio. The X-Factor was quick to point out that she seemed to come back with a different level of confidence and assertiveness (probably what happens when the greatest women’s coach of all-time tells you that, on your first Olympic team, you deserve a starting spot). Hobbled to start the season, she got healthier and stronger each game and in the 10 games after earning gold she averaged 17.0 points, 7.6 rebounds and 3.4 blocks. And that’s not counting her numbers in single-elimination games against Indiana (18 points, 9 rebounds, 3 blocks) and New York (22 points, 10 rebounds, 4 blocks). Let’s get that BG back from Russia in a few months.
A WNBA-best six different Mercury players participated in the Rio Olympics: Diana Taurasi and Brittney Griner (USA), Penny Taylor (Australia), Marta Xargay (Spain), Sonja Petrovic (Serbia), Lindsey Harding (Belarus). Four of those players (Taurasi and Griner – gold; Xargay – silver; Petrovic – bronze) brought home medals, and two of them (Xargay, Petrovic) helped their home countries to the first medals in their nations’ histories. Though she’s busy year-round, one of the biggest benefits to Sandy Brondello coaching overseas is her familiarity with and access to Europe’s best talent. Brondello and general manager Jim Pitman are constantly looking to identify new talent and they don’t stop at our borders.
One day, you’ll be able to tell your grandkids or students or the person next to you on a plane that you witnessed Diana Taurasi. From the passion on the court to the fire with her teammates to the ice-water in her veins in big games (did you SEE that playoff game in New York?!) to the single-game, single-season and all-time records that get added to her resume every year, she will go down as the greatest women’s player ever. In 2016, she became the fastest WNBA player ever to reach 7,000 points—by a lot. And now she’s only 178 points from becoming the all-time leading scorer in the history of the league. That’s reason number 3 (on this list alone) to look forward to 2017.