Well, there you have it. The Mercury drop a game to a sub .500 team and then come back the very next day and smoke the league's best team. Or really I should say the team with the best record in the league because all things considered I don't think the Fever are really all that strong.
That's a topic for another night though. The Fever came in missing their best player (or at least their top scorer) in Katie Douglas and having already wrapped up the best record in the East seem to be in cruise control. They came into this game having lost 3 of their last 4 and they certainly didn't look like a championship caliber team tonight.
You combine their lethargic play with extremely hot shooting by the Mercury (59% FG / 56% 3PG) and this game really was never very competitive. I would like to give the Mercury full credit for a great road win but watching (and in some cases re-watching) this game I just can't do it.
The Fever started the game like many teams are doing. Attacking Tangela Smith in the paint. Tammy Suton-Brown had 7 of her 19 points in the 1st quarter and all of those came in the first 6 minutes before Coach Gaines replaced all his five of his starters with his entire bench minus Brooke Smith. I don't ever recall the Mercury making that kind of five in / five out substitution in a game.
For those first 6 minutes or so the Fever were scoring at will and it was only the hot outside shooting of the Mercury that prevented another early deficit. The Mercury held a slim 18-15 lead before the mass substitution.
Then a funny thing happened. Defense. The front line of Bonner, Ohlde and Taylor started pushing the Fever post players out of the paint and used activity and length to disrupt the passing lanes which lead to a 10 - 4 run in the final 3:38 of the quarter. Bonner had 6 and Taylor 4.
The push by the second unit gave the Mercury a solid 9 point edge which they would take into the locker room since both teams managed 27 points in the 2nd period.
All season long the Mercury's best quarter of play has been the third. They average about 3 more points and about 4% better shooting coming out of the half. Tonight was no exception as the Mercury starters extended a 9 point lead to a 16 point lead within 3 minutes and 15 seconds. Game over.
I wish I could be more excited about this game but the bottom line is you are not going to shoot 56% from three every night and your opponent in the playoffs - or even the next three games vs Atlanta, Seattle and LA - isn't going to come out so flat.
The rotations being used by Cory Gaines continue to leave me scratching my head. I can't ever recall a team this close to the playoffs experimenting with so many different line up combinations. I understand that he just got Taylor and Ohlde back a few weeks ago but it is pretty clear by now what each of the players on this team brings to the table. One has to think that having establish rotation patterns at this point in the season would be beneficial to a team trying to finally put all its many talented pieces together.
There's a reason he's the coach and I'm not and the bottom line is as long as it works then as they say - scoreboard. But for now, the Mercury are only 5-4 since their fantastic 4-1 road trip which also coincides with the addition of Taylor and Ohlde to the line up.
The Mercury still are only 1 1/2 games ahead of Storm with the two teams playing in Seattle on the 10th. If the Mercury secure the number one seed and roll into the playoffs strong with more versatility in how they match-up against each opponent then that will make all this experimentation worth it.
If however, the Mercury lose the top spot and have to face both LA and Seattle in the playoffs and their confidence is shaken by inconsistent play to close out the season then we can look back at this period of time and question the decisions.
For now, the coach has earned the benefit of the doubt but he's only got three games left to prove it.