Record: 15-13 (5-2)
Place In Standings: Third (+1.0 on Seattle)
Points Per Game: 80.8 (77.4)
Points Against: 81.5 (72.0)
Shoutout to Connecticut Sun head coach Anne Donovan for inspiring the title to this Mercury Meter. Midway through the victory over the Sun one of the officials, for lack of a better way to describe this, drifted off into a dream world and was not mentally present for an obvious, physical foul. It happened right in front of me, Coach Donovan, and the ref. This prompted an angry, borderline rage filled tongue lashing where the ref could only respond with a despondent "..." and walk away.
That occurrence was so awkward I am still processing it today. I have never seen someone with authority do something so blatantly wrong, get verbally attacked, and then just wipe the crust off their eyes to walk away. What was she to do?
The Mercury have had trouble with teams under .500 allowing them to hang around in games this season. Whether it is with a slow start or a stalled finish teams like Connecticut, Tulsa, Washington, Indiana, New York, and San Antonio all have had chances to knock off the Mercury in close games. It also does not help that they are 3-11 against teams currently above .500 in the standings. What exactly is this team missing?
"Everyone has good players in the pros and records can be deceiving," stated Coach Russ Pennell on the struggles against teams low in the standings.
Lack of a Killer Instinct...?
A killer instinct. That is what this team is missing. Despite having a killer with the ball in her hands in Diana Taurasi the Mercury seem to lack an identity closing out games.
Sometimes Taurasi is enough on her own as a lethal scorer and distributor down the stretch, but in some instances, like last night, she is not as effective, aggressive, or simply enough by herself. She has DeWanna Bonner, Candice Dupree, and Brittney Griner as quality counter-options, but none of them seem to have that killer instinct.
"No I don't think so at all," said Bonner after the game. "Phoenix is a team that everyone wants to beat right now even though we are close to last place in the playoffs we still have the target on our backs. We are a great team and we have a lot of weapons so you are going to get the best game from every team every night. We just have to bring it."
Words can be easier than actions and in this case it is easier to say that the team does not lack a killer instinct. On the other hand when you have the 5th all-time leading scorer in WNBA history, last years No. 2 scorer, and the most physically gifted player in the history of the league getting in shootouts with teams at the bottom of the standings indicates otherwise.
Whether it is Taurasi, Bonner, Griner, or a combination of the three the team needs someone to step-up their game late to put the boot on teams and close them out. There are no style points in winning basketball games, but the reason teams like the Lynx and Sky are feared is because they have Maya Moore and Elena Delle Donne that close out games late.
The Mercury have the parts, but still have yet to find a way to put them together allowing this to be the team that was once touted as a Super Team. They have six games to gear up before the playoffs...
...and a Playoff Update.
Minnesota Lynx: Clinched (five games remaining)
Los Angeles Sparks: Clinched (five games remaining)
Phoenix Mercury: Magic Number Is One (six games remaining)
Seattle Storm: Clinched (four games remaining)
On Friday the Mercury can clinch a playoff berth against the San Antonio Silver Stars. They will be well rested and should be well prepared after being at home for 17 consecutive days playing only two total games in that time span. They have been in their own beds with plenty of time to rest, practice, and focus on getting better each day leading to the playoffs.
"It is tough," said Dupree about the long gaps between games. "We try and go against the practice players, get the guys out there and run us up-and-down the court a little bit. At this point in the season I think it is more mental. You have to go into games ready to play. We don't have a lot of practice time left, after this week, it is done for us."
This season the Mercury are 2-1 against the Silver Stars and with a win they can exhale. They can breath a sigh of relief as the they will be in the playoffs.
But just making the playoffs is the first goal along the way to winning a championship which was the goal when this collection of talent first assembled months ago. This has not been an ideal year for the team that made a major coaching change, has fought and clawed for every win, and battled injuries to simply remain in the hunt. Making the playoffs and making noise in the playoffs are two very different things; can the Mercury gather themselves to make some noise in September when it matters?
Friday vs. San Antonio Silver Stars at 7 p.m. AZ Time
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