Three Takeaways: Mercury defeat Sun, advance to WNBA semifinals

PHOENIX, AZ - SEPTEMBER 1: Monique Currie
PHOENIX, AZ - SEPTEMBER 1: Monique Currie /

UNCASVILLE, CT—After dropping trailing the Connecticut Sun by 17 points in the first quarter, the Phoenix Mercury rallied behind 26 points by Brittney Griner.  For the second season, the Mercury advance to the semifinals of the WNBA playoffs through the single-elimination first and second round.  Here are three takeaways from the 88-83 Phoenix win.

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Perimeter shooting

In the first quarter, the Sun were shooting 50% from the field (12 of 24) and three-point range (2 of 4). Additionally, the Sun had 16 points in the paint, compared to just six points by Phoenix.

As Griner got more looks in the paint, Phoenix was also able to move the ball more and improve perimeter shooting. Phoenix finished the game shooting 39.1% from the three-point line, a nine percentage point improvement from the first half.  No series was more important from the arc than the back-to-back-to-back daggers from Leilani Mitchell, Diana Taurasi, and Monique Currie.  The trio game Phoenix a 84-79 lead with 1:54 minutes left in the fourth quarter.

Connecticut went 4-16 (25%) from the arc in the loss.

Controlling Pace

In addition to improving on the perimeter, the Mercury were able to control the pace of the game more effectively as the game progressed.  Connecticut is a young team that thrives off defensive rebounds that then spark offensive runs.  The Sun pulled down 17 defensive rebounds (25 total) in the first half.

After the half, Phoenix found a way to slow things down and find their shot offensively. “We just weren’t real effective,” said Phoenix head coach Sandy Brondello of her team’s (lack) of scoring in the first half.

“We had words with [Brittney Griner] that she had to get two feet in the paint,” continued Brondello. At the half, she asked her season leading scorer to be a threat under the basket. More looks underneath drew the double-team and opened up things for Phoenix.

Getting more rotations on offense and key stop on defense to control the pace of the game had a great deal to do with the collective experience of the Mercury players.

Experience matters

Despite returning only two players from last season, the Mercury team bring championship experience to the postseason. “There come times in a game where you have to make a choice whether you just lay down or you fight back and get back into it,” recalled Taurasi post game.

One such moment came in a few minutes into the second quarter, Phoenix was down by 17, the largest deficit of the game. After that timeout, the Mercury continued to chip away and entered the locker room down seven points at the half.

From there, players like Monique Currie (12 points), and Camille Little (6 rebounds) made key shots and defensive stops that swung the momentum the other way. “Having veteran players, having players who know what their specific role is and doing that to the best of their ability, that helps older teams,” said 2010 WNBA champion Little.

Phoenix will now look to gain an edge over defending WNBA champions, the Los Angeles Sparks. The semifinals will be a best of five series.  Phoenix is 6-4 all-time when facing the Sparks in the playoffs.  Los Angeles swept the regular season series against the Mercury 3-0.