Phoenix Mercury’s resilient season receives national respect

AP Photo/John Locher

Regardless of how this playoffs series ended, Phoenix’s players and coaches already earned the respect of their peers and fans across the league.

“They have great fight,” Mercury head coach Vanessa Nygaard said. “They have great grit…They were locked in. We won some really important games when we really needed to. When we were really behind and didn’t have a lot of people and it’s just really great to see that.”

“Changes, adjustments, injuries…you name it, this team has gone through it,” Aces head coach Becky Hammon said. “They have a sense of resiliency to them and a sense of toughness to be able to put themselves in this spot.”

What more can be said?

The Mercury’s season ended in Las Vegas as the Aces completed the round one series sweep, 2-0.

PHX’s players have endured a laundry list of challenges, starting with their sister, All-WNBA center, and Olympic gold medalist in Brittney Griner being wrongfully detained in Russia.

The obstacles continued with Tina Charles’ contract divorce, losing their star backcourt of Diana Taurasi (right quad) and Skylar Diggins-Smith (personal reasons), and just when you thought luck would turn in their favor, spark plug and fan favorite Shey Peddy ruptures her right Achilles tendon in Game 1 of the postseason.

“I don’t think she gets enough credit,” Sophie Cunningham said. “Shey keeps our team together. She’s the life of the party. She’s a great human. For her to go down like that, it just breaks your heart because…with the season we’ve had, she’s always been a consistent piece and has brought great energy, great vibes in practice and games every single day.”

Even then, late-season addition in Kaela Davis stepped up in Game 2, scoring a team-high 23 points to go along with six boards.

Despite Diamond DeShields adding 21 points of her own, it took a WNBA postseason record 23 three-pointers at a 64% clip from Las Vegas and six players in double-figures to knock out the depleted Mercury.

“At a certain point, when you take enough hits, you just kinda get tired of people saying how strong you are,” DeShields said. “I’m happy to have shared the floor with this team, shared a locker room with this team…through it all, I’m happy to have done it with this group.”

The hustle was evident all year and that competitive prowess was on display against Las Vegas as the undersized Merc still managed to win the series offensive rebounding battle by 13.

When the five players on the pregame injury report include the likes of Griner, Taurasi, Diggins-Smith, Peddy, and Kia Nurse (ACL), mustering up enough production to defeat a squad like the first-placed Aces is quite the mountain to climb.

“With the type of season we’ve had, it is one for a book to be made,” Cunningham said.

As the sun sets on a league-leading 10th straight playoff appearance and off-season questions arise for PHX, Nygaard’s first year as a head coach was one of growth.

“Really proud of our team,” Nygaard said. “Grateful for the opportunity to work with them and to represent the Phoenix Mercury. There’s a lot of lessons for me, personally, to learn. I’ll do some reflecting and hopefully come back better.”

Outside of front office decisions regarding the roster, Phoenix’s main focus continues to be ensuring Brittney Griner’s safe return home.

“There’s bigger things in life too,” Nygaard said. “As hard as our season was, it’s not as hard as BG’s experience right now, being in a Russian jail, so we try to keep all that in perspective.”

That perspective helped give them strength to take on whatever this year threw at them, and while it was more than most would’ve imagined, they made the most of it all.

The Mercury will conduct exit interviews and end-of-season physicals on Sunday.