Well, that was fun. Another home game against another top Western Conference opponent and another win. Once more the Mercury relied on solid shooting and a late game surge to pull ahead and close out the game. This time it took a 13 - 3 run that started with about 3 minutes to go that extended a 1 point lead to 12 points in what seemed like the blink of an eye. That 12 point lead in the final 30 seconds of the game was the Mercury's biggest margin of the night.
The energy in the US Airways Center during that final stretch was absolutely amazing. It reminds me of the glory days of the 04 to 07 Suns when a huge run would be capped by a Nash to Marion open court gem.
With this Mercury team the run was sparked by a few key blocks which Sparks' Coach Michael Cooper thought were the result of his team losing mental focus and that Coach Gaines feels is the inevitable result of the Mercury's superior fitness and up tempo style of play.
Regardless of the cause, it was thrilling to watch a Phoenix team drop 8 unanswered points in the final 90 seconds of a game against anyone from LA. Beat LA chants in that kind of moment is what every fan of Phoenix basketball lives for. Beat LA! My two favorite words.
It was a fantastic victory over a very tough Los Angeles team that defended well and played hard for Coach Cooper. The Sparks absolutely killed the Mercury on the offensive boards outscoring Phoenix 24 to 3. Time and again the Sparks would put up a bad shot (they only hit 38%) but then were able to grab the rebound and get the bucket.
Coach Gaines talked about the impact of those put backs, "We didn't rebound tonight and that's what caused us all of these problems. It hurts us in two ways. We can't run out, we can't push the ball up the court because we have to take the ball out from out of bounds so now the game slows down. It also deflates our run when they score on a put back. It deflates us mentally because it just wears on you."
Offensively, the Mercury are still not happy with where they are despite shooting 49% from the field and 42% from behind the arc. The league's leading offense still feels like it has a lot of room to improve. Scary.
It's late on a Friday night and like Cappie Pondexter, I am a little tired after all these games. Unlike her, I am going to mail it in and go to the bullet points to close out this recap:
- Cappie started hot shooting 6 for 8 for 14 points in the first half but she tired as the game wore on and her touch fell off a bit. She was still able to turn it on during that curcial stretch and refused to settle for jumpers getting to the rim for 3 point play the ignited the final run. Huge play
- Cappie talked about getting tired, "I got fatigued there at the end of the third and into the fourth. We haven't had a legit day off where we're able to relax and take a mental break. Three games in six days is tough."
- Unfortunately, it's not going to get any easier with Seattle Sunday and then three road games in six days to finish a brutal 6 games in 11 day stretch of the schedule
- Having a Cappie to close out games and get big shots is a luxury few teams have but she gave all the credit for this game to her teammates and in particular Tangela Smith who's 10 points and 8 rebounds don't tell the full story according to Cappie
- Trading a first round pick to the Sparks for Tameka Johnson after trading away point guard Kelly Miller for Nicole Ohlde (who might play Sunday) had a lot of Mercury fans wondering if GM Ann Meyers-Drysdale had lost her mind. Tonight, Tameka continued to make her boss look good by putting up 10 points in the fourth quarter and finishing with 18 points and 7 assists in her best game as a Mercury player. She said her performance had nothing to do with playing against her old team. I am not sure I fully believe that but I am also too scared to tell her
- With Meek on the floor the half court offense flows and Diana and Cappie can do their thing off the ball. She's intense and tough defensively and isn't afraid to get to the rim and take a hit. Her 5'3" height makes it difficult to finish but she has great touch around the rim and her flat jump shot has been fairly consistent. At one point she put a hard cross over on Kristi Harrower that I thought was going to result in the ambulance being called for those broken ankles
- The unsung starter on this squad is forward Le'Coe Willingham. Le'Coe at one point was 5 for 5 with a variety of face up and post moves. She's extermely fluid with the ball and plays with a lot of skill for size
- Le'Coe understands that at only 6' she is playing against taller and longer players on most nights but she knows how to use her stregnth and natural skill to her advantage. "If I do have a bigger player, and teams usually are putting their biggest person on me, it is easier for me to take them off the block and go one on one and be aggressive and Corey (Gaines) recognizes that and so he'll put me in situations where I'm able to do that."
- Like a great running back, Le'Coe doesn't go into a situation knowing exactly what move she's going to make. She reads the defense and uses her instinct and skill to get free with a variety of up and under or spin moves with either hand. If Dwight Howard had the natural post instinct that Willingham possesses he would score 35 points per game and be completely unstoppable. At some point though, Le'Coe will likely end up coming off the bench for this team. She gives up too much height to be effective on the glass and her ability to get high percentage points will be a big plus as a reserve
- Ho hum. Diana Taurasi scored 17 pionts on 5 for 11 shooting. That's an off night for her. Unreal.
- At one point she flew in from the wing on a fast break, took a bounce pass and glided to the rim like Grant Hill. DT combines that kind of skill with her dirt tough play and intense floor leadership. She is just a thrill to watch and a hilarious interview. She really should be a bigger star in Phoenix media circles then she is. A lot of TV stations are really missing out by not having Diana on the air
- Rookie DeWanna Bonner caught and finished beautifully on a half court lob but landed hard on her wrist. She returned to the game but had an off night for her scoring only 8 points and missing a few easy looks. Despite that, she was a huge presence in the paint fighting for rebounds and tipping balls especially in the closing part of the fourth quarter
- Sparks legend Lisa Leslie went down in the first half after grabbing a rebound. At first it looked like a knee injury but the reports were that she bruised her right hip. It didn't look to me like she fell on it as much as perhaps jammed it when she landed. She was down for several minutes and was in a lot of pain when she left the floor. She didn't return
- Coach Cooper reported after the game, "It's day-to-day right now, luckily it's nothing too serious. Hopefully we'll have her back in a week or so." That's good news I suppose. After seeing Seimone Augustus tear her ACL in the Mercury's last home game, another serious injury to another great player would have been a bit much
Congratulations to Kathy for winning two 2nd row tickets to the Mercury's next home game against the Seattle Storm. Kathy guessed Cappie would have 20 pts, 6 assists and 5 rebounds which was pretty darn close to her 21, 4 and 6.
Kathy will be attending what should be another great game.
Cappie described the match up with the Storm this way, "Seattle is rolling right now. We have a big rivalry against those guys for some reason. It always gets physical and nasty with them with Dee and Lauren (Jackson) and me and Sue (Bird) so I think it's going to be a good battle." The Storm put a 90 to 62 beating on the Lynx tonight to go 4-2 on the season. They are one game back from the Mercury in the West.
You might want to consider spending $10 Sunday to sit in the lower level of the US Airways Center and watch the most exciting basketball team in town. By far, the 5 and 1 Mercury are out-performing the lack luster and down trodden Phoenix Suns of 2008/09 in pure entertainment value.
This season's already seen the Mercury defeat last year's Western Conference Champions; put up a record breaking 115 point OT performance; get a victory over the other top team in the West to take sole possession of first place; and take down the LA Sparks who most people picked to win it all.
Despite all that, the best game should be Sunday against Lauren Jackson and the Seattle Storm.
You can watch a replay of this or any Mercury game online (free) at WNBA.com