Three takeaways: New Mercury additions not enough to topple Lynx

PHOENIX, AZ - SEPTEMBER 02: Lindsay Whalen
PHOENIX, AZ - SEPTEMBER 02: Lindsay Whalen /

PHOENIX– Greatness is developed through repetition, comfort and experience. It is not easily challenged, especially when those three ingredients are in far shorter supply on the other side. It should go as no surprise then, that the seasoned and cohesive Minnesota Lynx would go on the road and beat the Phoenix Mercury, 91-83, on Friday night.

The battle was actually much closer than expected for a Mercury team which has lingered around .500 for most of the season. Here are three takeaways from an exciting contest between two rival Western Conference teams:

1. Defending Lynx is a tall order, even for dominant Mercury defense

Minnesota presents two problems for defenses trying to contain them: a) they are one of the best-shooting teams in the NBA and b) they can find scoring across their roster. Those truths were on full display on Friday night, as Minny got double-digit scoring from four members of its starting five, and at least 7 points from seven different players.

The Lynx shot only 33 percent from distance, but the threat of that shot put the Mercury defense at bay when things got physical in the halfcourt. The shooting ability of players like Rebekkah Brunson and Seimone Augustus makes it impossible to send consistent help toward Sylvia Fowles in the post or elsewhere on the court. That court space puts fewer defenders in the way of Minnesota’s aggressive backcourt scorers.

Minny is shooting 38 percent on threes for the season, and the threat of those shots will continue to make things miserable on opposing defenses until someone starts missing.

2. Danielle Robinson is already vital for the Mercury

Robinson was acquired during the offseason for Isabelle Harrison and a first-round pick, but her value is already obvious regardless of the cost. The Mercury struggle to score in the halfcourt, frequently leaning on transition success to keep pace on offense. There is perhaps no better player in the league to ignite transition offense than Robinson.

Early in the second half, as Phoenix attempted to chip away at a 10-point deficit, Robinson was dominant. She stole two passes in the third quarter, which helped keep the Lynx to a mere 10 points in the period. Robinson’s pressure took Minnesota out of rhythm at the worst possible time, especially while she was on the court with the bench.

The veteran point guard was 7-12 for 15 points on Friday, getting hers more often than normal during a stagnant night for the Mercury. It really opened things up for Phoenix.

Having someone to mix and match with backup Leilani Mitchell has allowed Mercury Coach Sandy Brondello to feature lineups made up of both bench players and starters throughout the game. That has meant a better balance of scoring and defense from minute to minute for the Mercury, which brings us to our third point.

3. Recent roster moves will help the Mercury

This week in separate deals, Phoenix acquired Monique Currie and Angel Robinson. Currie comes as a Mercury veteran from the 2015 team, familiar with Brondello’s system and comfortable in the sparkplug scorer role. Robinson can fill the backup center role for Brittney Griner, especially in situations like Friday night’s game, when foul trouble limits Griner’s impact.

Considered together, the deals help to solidify a rocky Mercury rotation. Going into the season, Phoenix was overstuffed with guard depth. That problem was amplified when Cayla George struggled to acclimate to the WNBA early on, floating in and out of Brondello’s favor. With Currie and Robinson aboard, the Mercury can count on those two to fill out the bench with Mitchell, Yvonne Turner and Emma Cannon.

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Currie especially will help the bench keep pace on offense, which has generally been a point of struggle for the Mercury this season. Apart from Turner, they were not getting consistent offense out of any of their bench players. Currie has scored 29 and 32 points in separate career-high scoring nights this season.