Mercury kicks off second half of season with biggest win yet

Courtesy: Phoenix Mercury

Coming back from WNBA All-Star weekend in Vegas, the 4-15 Mercury roster was well-rested and focused on the task at hand: setting a positive tone for the next 20 games.

This 72-66 win over the Sun is Phoenix’s 5th win and interim head coach Nikki Blue’s 3rd.

Similar to the Liberty game earlier this month where Phoenix came back from down 20 to nearly win, this matchup showed that the Mercury is capable of competing with the league’s best.

“This team has really turned a corner,” Blue said. “Their resilience. Their toughness. Their ability to fight every single possession out there…Our players continuing to play together and being there for each other, which is a chemistry we haven’t had yet.”

Despite a strong first half to work off that saw PHX hold a lead as large as 14, the third quarter woes gave the crowd reason to hold its collective breath.

“In the huddles, our coaching staff just said, ‘If you want this game, we have to take it, and take it now,'” Blue said. “Our team rallied together…That’s something that we work on in our practices…just stringing together the score, stop, score’s.”

Connecticut’s defense did a great job making Brittney Griner (12 pts, 5 reb, 4 ast) uncomfortable by doubling basically every time she was in low-post position.

Phoenix figured out their adjustments and had Griner pass out quickly to create mismatches and disorganize CON’s switches – that led to high percentage takes.

“We anticipate BG being doubled a lot,” Blue said. “We have to be strategic with where we place our players on offense…Right when we came back from break, I checked in with every single player. [Sophie] said, ‘I’m back,’ so that gave us the clue to put her where she needed to be to get off some shots.”

Four Mercury players were in double-figures, including Sophie Cunningham, who put up a team-high 17 points (her most since June 18) on five made threes.

“I think we all needed a breather,” Cunningham said. “Went home, saw my family, my grandma said some prayers for me, ‘I’ve been praying that the lord will get your head out of your butt.’ I think her prayers worked. We knew we had the pieces and the energy tonight defensively is what won the game for us.”

It was one of the more efficient outings for PHX on that end, holding one of the most potent offenses in the league to under 20 points per quarter.

“Trying to be physical out there,” Brianna Turner said. “One of our focuses tonight was transition defense… Just following the game plan the coaches had for us turned out successful.”

Diana Taurasi added 15 points of her own and now stands 71 points away from 10,000 career points.

This victory was made even more impressive by the fact that it wasn’t pretty.

The Mercury took on the W’s third place team and came out on top – gritty and all.

“Since All-Star break [ended], we’ve been so locked in,” Cunningham said. “Our attention to detail, our communication. We know we have to flip the switch and we did that…if we take care of us, I think we’ll be just fine.”

More than anything, Phoenix needs this momentum to carry over to a winnable game against the Chicago Sky at Footprint Center on Thursday at 7 pm.

Extra sights and sounds from the game: