Three Takeaways: Mercury win as Taurasi approaches history

SAN ANTONIO, TX - MAY 19: Diana Taurasi
SAN ANTONIO, TX - MAY 19: Diana Taurasi /

PHOENIX—On Friday night, thousands of people watched from across the country as a basketball great reached to strike one more chiseled mark into her likeness on the game’s Rushmore. Diana Taurasi entered a matchup with the Chicago Sky only 29 points from Tina Thompson’s all-time WNBA scoring record. The game ended in victory for the Phoenix Mercury, 86-78, but also with Taurasi still sitting second on the scoring list after a poor shooting night.

For a Mercury team still working to coalesce into an heir to the three WNBA champions that Taurasi has led, just the victory was enough. Here are three takeaways from an interesting game in Phoenix:

1. Allie Quigley reaches another level

The age of 30 is not the time when most athletes peak. However, Quigley’s trip through the WNBA took a little while to get off the ground. It wasn’t until 2013 with the Sky that Quigley was able to catch on with a team and play a complete season. In 34 games that year, the 5-11 guard posted sub-.500 true shooting percentage. She’s gotten better every year.

With a scoring average of 17.0 points per 36 minutes and contributions all over the board, Quigley is really bolstering Chicago’s offense. She is up to a true shooting percentage of .645 in six games, despite a decrease in usage down below her career number. This is largely due to a significant uptick in 3-point accuracy. Quigley is suddenly launching 6.1 threes per 36 minutes, and making over 40 percent of those shots. Her career average from distance was a respectable 35.8 percent, but the gunslinger is bending defenses in new ways this season.


Last night in Phoenix, she buried several shots at the end of the clock to keep Chicago in the game against a tight Mercury defense. With Brittney Griner patrolling the paint and several solid individual defenders making things tough on the outside, opposing players must find crevices a little further back.

Although Quigley only scored 19 points total, her clutch shooting kept the Sky afloat in the first half and put pressure on the Mercury defense at its best. In the second half, they played Quigley a little tighter and forced her to make plays. She was more than up to that challenge as well, finishing the contest with six assists to go along with a strong scoring night.  

2. You don’t want to face the Phoenix Mercury defense

Under Coach Sandy Brondello, the Mercury’s focus has been angled sharply toward defense. Anchored by a historically great defensive player in Griner and a system that funnels motion toward her alligator arms, Phoenix has made things incredibly tough for opposing offenses. They have ranked in the top two in defensive rating (points allowed per 100 possessions) in three of four seasons under Brondello.

What was impressive in last night’s contest wasn’t just the steadfast Phoenix defense—that’s become a constant. It was the little ways that each player pitched in to hold Chicago to a 42 percent shooting night. Camille Little, known mostly as an offensive player, set the tone in the first quarter with several forced turnovers and hard contests. The ability to switch stood out when the Sky tried to attack in transition to start the second half. The balance and muscle of players like Emma Cannon and Leilani Mitchell kept Chicago at bay.

Sure, Quigley and forward Jessica Breland put together strong individual performances, but they accounted for nearly half of Chicago’s total points and exactly half of its made field goals. Keeping the team out of rhythm and making players like Cappie Pondexter (5-13 shooting) and Imani Boyette (3-12 shooting) uncomfortable was the key to victory last night.

Creating a physical and emphatic tone early on was enough to set a precedent for the foul calls over the course of the rest of the game. By crunch time, it felt like Phoenix was getting an overwhelming majority of iffy calls. After three or four of those, Pondexter got snappy with an official and was ejected.

In response to the discrepancy in foul calls, Pondexter said after the game that “At the end of the day, when you put a team on the free throw line that many times, it’s hard to kind of gain the momentum because the clock is always stopping.” It’s a fair assessment of a game that got closer than it had any business being once Breland got hot in the fourth quarter. The Mercury attempted 39 free throws compared to the Sky’s 21. That could have been the difference in a game decided by only eight points.

3. Diana Taurasi doesn’t care about records

A typical Taurasi moment in the locker room after the game Friday night was when, after being pushed to discuss the significance of last night’s game in relation to the impending breaking of the WNBA all-time scoring record, Taurasi said “Oh? I thought we were just 6-4 for the first time in like three years.”

Taurasi’s greatness is not questioned, and her legacy as one of the game’s best players will not be determined by whether or not she eventually breaks Tina Thompson’s scoring record. Three titles and a bountiful career in, the basketball world already respects and reveres Taurasi. She knows this, and clearly has pride in what she has been able to accomplish in college, as a professional and overseas. This record is merely another stepping stone in a career full of them, and the hoopla is not her (or this team’s) preferred way of handling their business. (Note that Brittney Griner did make history, reaching 2,000 points for her career.)

Perhaps it’s more fitting that Taurasi (in all likelihood) break the record in front of her hometown fans tomorrow night in Los Angeles. The record will have arrived within the flow of another successful season, luckily during a portion of it that coincides with an opportunity to be near home. She is clearly not fretting about it; after the game, she was incredibly composed when discussing her proximity to history:

“I’m not chasing it, when it comes it comes,” Taurasi told assembled reporters. “If you play basketball long enough and you do it the right way it will come.”