Three Takeaways: Phoenix Mercury look dominant in home victory over New York Liberty

PHOENIX, AZ - JULY 05: Diana Taurasi
PHOENIX, AZ - JULY 05: Diana Taurasi /

PHOENIX– The last time the Phoenix Mercury had a Sunday matinee at home, they came out with a thud and dropped the season opener. On Sunday, they protected Talking Stick Resort Arena and beat an underachieving New York Liberty team, 81-69, to rise to 9-6 on the season.

Here are three takeaways from a dominant two-way performance from a Mercury team finally coalescing.

Mercury show their offensive gameplan can work

For opposing teams, game-planning for the Mercury isn’t too difficult. Most of what Phoenix does on offense circulates around Brittney Griner and Diana Taurasi. It’s rare that both are on the bench at one time, and their skills are the centerpiece for Phoenix’s motion offense. Taurasi is elite handling the ball and shooting, while Griner can finish plays down low better than anyone in the WNBA.

In the first half tonight, both players had it going and overwhelmed the Liberty. Griner and Taurasi combined for 36 points on 75 percent shooting to push Phoenix to 51 points and a nine-point lead going into halftime. They finished the game 19-29 for a combined 50 points. The New York frontcourt, like most in league this year, could not answer for Griner. In a performance that looked very similar to her career-best on June 8, she made 10 of 13 baskets and was even efficient moving the ball for the Mercury.

On one play near the end of the half, she found Angel Robinson cutting from the arc for a wide-open layup after the Liberty defense broke down toward the ball. Plays like that are how Coach Sandy Brondello hopes her stars can unlock the Mercury offense.

The good and bad of Tina Charles

New York has done well to surround Charles with great frontcourt talent, insulating their star scorer in the best possible way. She is sitting at a 21.5 PER this year, maintaining efficiency despite one of the highest usage rates of her career. The Liberty are more than four points better on offense per 100 possessions when Charles is on the court. They are clearly better for her abilities.

However, especially on defense, New York can sometimes struggle based on Charles’s limitations. She sometimes suffers from Offensive Star Syndrome, which plagues high-usage scorers on the other side of the ball. Charles struggled for much of the first half tonight, unable to work from the weakside to give help on Griner during her massive performance. This forces Liberty Coach Bill Laimbeer to play Charles next to one of Kiah Stokes or Kia Vaughn throughout the entire game, which in turn keeps the Liberty offense from becoming the devastating blitzkrieg it could be with Charles at center.

It also forces Vaughn and Stokes to be at the top of their game most nights, with the abundance of incredible bigs in the league these days. New York is actually even on defense per 100 possession with Vaughn, the starting center, on the court. With Griner at her absolute best tonight, Laimbeer’s centers provided no value despite Charles’s 29 points. Something has to give here, if New York is to compete against the best bigs in the league.

Phoenix still struggling on the margins

Averaging 12 turnovers per game and having been out-rebounded for the season, Phoenix has been unable to iron out the edges of their new roster and Griner-centric style.

For the first several games of the season, Phoenix struggled mightily to clean the glass. It is a big reason they got off to an uneven start to the season. Unfortunately, they have now stumbled into another big problem: turnovers. Phoenix has turned the ball over 17 times in each of the past two contests, even as they have won both games.

Next: Three Takeaways from Sun victory over Lynx

The biggest reason for optimism on both of these fronts is Brondello’s concrete rotation. She has put Monique Currie and Angel Robinson, both acquired last week, into the rotation ahead of younger players like Emma Cannon and Alexis Prince. Their impact on the team has been dynamic and immediate. That, along with the return of Danielle Robinson from early-season injury, figure to give the Mercury some chemistry to build off of heading into the second half of the year.