WNBA Finals -- Blood, sweat, black eyes, and teeth were all sacrifices the Phoenix Mercury made in route to a 29 point, a WNBA Finals record 29-point, victory in Game Two as they inch one game closer to a Championship.
Those were all sacrifices made by Brittney Griner in the first half alone as the battle was much more contested for the first 20 minutes in Game Two than it was in first 3 minutes of the first game. Once Griner picked her tooth up off the court she picked her game up to another level.
The game (and potentially the series) got out of hand for the Chicago Sky early in the opening minutes of Game One falling behind by nine points early, watching their offense sputter, and then die out as the Mercury took the game in the series in historic fashion.
Early in Game Two the competitive nature of the Sky was welcomed after the one-sided affair to kick off the series as they not only traded blows with the Mercury for most of the first half, but knocked them down a few times.
Elena Delle Donne willed herself through the game playing playing 28 minutes (compared to 10:24 in Game One) scoring 22 points, 12 in the first half, keeping her team in the game with efficient scoring. Her spark allowed the Sky to stay with the Mercury for a lot longer than three minutes this time around. Having her on the court making shots was a glimmer as to why the Sky made it this far in the playoffs to begin with after a sub-.500 season.
These playoffs have been labeled as "#ThisIsOurMoment" by the Sky, but moments are quick and fleeting.
The Sky took the lead three different times and held in tough through 16 minutes with a 31-31 tie before the Mercury created separation with a 20-5 run that essentially ended the game. After breaking numerous records, both individual and team, in Game One, the Mercury cruised to the largest margin of victory with a 29 point (97-68) balanced team win. That has been the key for the Mercury in this years playoffs, offensive symmetry.
With all the talk of the Mercury's team length, defense, and play on that end of the floor the special play on the offensive end is being slightly overshadowed. The defense has been a major part of this teams success, but the defense was there last year, the offense was what sputtered at times.
Through two games here in the WNBA Finals the Mercury have struck a cord with offensive symmetry.
Diana Taurasi is leading the charge with 18.5 points (60% field goal) and 7.0 assists a game here in the Finals, but it is the balance that has made this team impossible for the Sky to figure out.
After Taurasi, Candice Dupree is second with 18.0 points (78.2% FG), Griner third with 15.5 points (57.1% FG), Penny Taylor fourth at 11.5 points and 7.0 assists (52.6% FG), and DeWanna Bonner fifth chipping in 10.5 points (53.3% FG) per game in the Finals alone. All five starters are contributing at a high level creating a balance on offense that is rarely seen putting up 90.0 points per game and shooting a mind numbing 57.2% from the field as a team.
The Mercury are shooting 57.2% from the field as a team in the Finals.
With every starter averaging double figures and shooting over 52% individually from the field they are the most balanced offense in the history of the Finals.
The great ball movement and unselfish play has been a key for the Mercury as they are not defined by one star shouldering the load rather a star shining through individual match-ups on a play-by-play basis. With Taurasi and Taylor dealing out 14.0 assists a night the offense flows. As a team the Mercury shot 48.4% from the field in the regular season and 19.4 assists per game, but in the Finals have stepped up to an elite level shooting 57.2% from the field and averaging 22.5 assists per game.
This offense plays inside with Griner, to the middle with Dupree, and out on the perimeter with Bonner and Taylor. Then there is Taurasi on the pick-and-roll with the tenacity of Kobe Bryant scoring and the savvy of Steve Nash making plays.
Last season under the guidance of Band-Aid head coach Russ Pennell the concept of defense was first introduced to the Mercury. They gave up 6.15 points per game more last season, but learned concepts and how to play with a force like Griner in the paint.. The defense was in its infancy, but more mature than the offense. The offense matured overnight like a six inch growth spurt in high school going from 79.71 points per game to 85.53 this season as an unstoppable force.
Head Coach Sandy Brondello brought a lot of sets that incorporate Griner into the offense more efficiently with her time coaching Candace Parker in Los Angeles, being around the San Antonio organizations, and the Phoenix Suns spacing principles giving this offense more complexity than most.
At times defense sparks offense and other times the offense sparks the defense.
In Game Two Bonner made a couple of plays in the half-court offensively that gave her an extra gear on defense leading to steals, breakaway buckets, and offense turning into defense turning into offense.
Now with one more game remaining to cut down the nets and win a third Championship the offense is what to watch.
As an individual, Taurasi is 12 points away from tying Deanna Nolan (256 points) for the most points in WNBA Finals History. For the team, a win by 18 or more points would give them the largest margin of victory for a team in a single playoffs. The current record, 15.4 points per game by the 2013 Minnesota Lynx is just higher than this years Mercury margin of victory, which is 15.0 points per game.
Friday could be the final game of the Phoenix Mercury's season, the WNBA season, and the end of what could go down as the best team in WNBA History with the most wins (36-6) ever and another Championship.