The Phoenix Mercury completed a season sweep over the Fever with a home win in the last game before the All-Star break.
PHOENIX — They weren’t the prettiest three wins, but the most needed. The Phoenix Mercury beat the Indiana Fever on Tuesday, 95-77, to head into the All-Star break on a three-game win streak, two games above .500, and content to simply be in the playoff mix.
“It took us a while just to get our chemistry, but I’m really happy the way we’re playing,” coach Sandy Brondello remarked after the win.
Fever guards still a problem
This is Phoenix’s third time facing the Fever already this season, and each game was decided by how effectively the Mercury could control Indiana’s electric guard trio. Tiffany Mitchell and Erica Wheeler combined to score 18 points in the first half, and 33 overall.
Phoenix lacks the size on the perimeter to slow them down. One adjustment the Mercury tried in this third matchup was switching screens, which better allowed their defenders to keep Mitchell and Wheeler in front of them. This at least forced the starting tandem to work harder to create space, but they still had no problem finding daylight. Mitchell made her first three three-pointers and charged the Fever to a 5-11 start from deep.
Wheeler said she tried to attack the holes in Phoenix’s defensive schemes that open when center Brittney Griner drops to protect the rim.
“Trying to attack (Griner), just putting it on my back to get the bigs an open look,” Wheeler said of her approach.
That hot shooting continued through the rest of the game, as Indiana made half its threes. However, the Fever’s 13 turnovers and the Mercury’s own hot shooting kept Indiana at bay and allowed Phoenix to take control of the game.
Lineup creativity for Phoenix
With Diana Taurasi, Essence Carson and Sancho Lyttle each recovering from long-term injuries, the Mercury’s depth is being challenged. That forced coach Sandy Brondello to get creative with the team’s rotation.
Brondello sent out a big lineup with Camille Little in place of Sophie Cunningham with the rest of the team’s starters. She also put together a more versatile lineup with Leilani Mitchell, Yvonne Turner, DeWanna Bonner, Little and Alanna Smith. Late in the second half, Griner played alongside rookie center Brianna Turner in a lineup Brondello tried last week against Dallas. It allows Turner to not be exposed against bigger centers while also taking advantage of the rookie’s energy.
Nothing stood out early, but quickly in the second half, Brondello turned to that starters-plus-Little lineup to great result. Little was the spark last Wednesday at home against Dallas, and again against Indiana, as her offensive rebounding, floor-spacing and energy level all helped the Mercury nurse a six-point lead heading into the fourth quarter.
“They’re taking their opportunities and they feel comfortable,” Brondello said. “Everyone has injuries, we’re not going to use it as an excuse.”
Before the Wings games last week, one could have made the case the Mercury were at their lowest point in years, with a record below .500 and no turnaround in sight. Three straight victories keyed by strong play by Little and Yvonne Turner in particular has revitalized Phoenix’s season.
McCowan adjusting to Griner matchup
Through the first two games between these two squads, rookie Teaira McCowan was hapless against the 6-9 Griner. Despite nearly matching Griner’s size, she cannot do much against the two-time Defensive Player of the Year’s length.
However, in this matchup, McCowan threw her muscle around a bit more, attacking the glass and pushing and shoving for space inside. She corralled nine rebounds and scored 14 points.
“She’s getting better already in this season,” Griner said. “She wasn’t shying away going to the basket, trying to seal down low, so if she keeps doing that and working on it, honestly the sky’s the limit for her.”
McCowan can be a nightly advantage for Indiana in time, and making the most of matchups against the league’s biggest and best players is important for her as a rookie.
Love our 24/7 women’s basketball coverage? Join our Patreon now and support this work, while getting extra goodies and subscriber-only content for yourself.