WNBA Finals -- With 13,263 fans on hand at U.S. Airways Center history was witnessed as the Phoenix Mercury are now just two wins away from a third WNBA Championship.
Coming into this series it was almost as if the Team of Destiny was battling the team of destiny with parallel storylines colliding with only one able to reach their destiny. A lot of times the championship is contested between one team that has a feel of destiny behind them and another team is there to serve as a trivia answer down the line.
The Phoenix Mercury were pit as a Team of Destiny last year, but injuries and other variables cut that narrative off at the knees before this years historic run.
They broke all the records, won a ton of games, and became the team to beat from the standpoint of being a dominant force to be reckoned with. On the other side of tracks the Sky are the team of destiny as that team that will not die and should not be where they are. Typically teams that are 15-19 in the regular season and went through the embattled season that they have are getting ready for the draft not Game Two of the WNBA Finals.
"There was a lot of focus on Delle Donne" Candice Dupree on the series preparation for the team. "One teammate said that we cannot 'overfocus' on her because they are still going to have four other people on the court. We did prepare a lot for the plays that they do run for her and when she was in the game, we played her well, she had like two points. That was the biggest thing."
With the Sky at half strength in both regular season contests where the Mercury won both and looked great this is a series of far too many unknowns to take those games too serious.
This is a series that unlike any other before has two teams of some form of destiny and where everything we have seen from these teams this season is a complete wash away. Not relevant in the slightest.
Game one the Mercury's destiny was stronger.
From the opening tip to the closing buzzer the Mercury controlled and dominated the game. With a 9-0 to start the game where Brittney Griner became the WNBA's single game playoff leader in blocks for a quarter (6) limiting the Sky to only 8 points total. The first quarter has been where the dominance has shown through the strongest for the Mercury the most in the playoffs holding teams to 15.6 points per game (34.6% FG) in the first period.
Ironically earlier in the season one of the primary concerns for the Mercury was poor starts and having to play catch-up against inferior teams.
That is now a thing of the past as the Mercury are leaving the first quarter with an average of a +3.7 advantage on the scoreboard setting the tone for the game. Defense was the catalyst for them in game one with six blocks (five from Griner), one steal, two 24 second shot-clock violations, and forcing six turnovers as a whole. The length was on full display shutting down the Sky's offense on every possession.
Allie Quigley (1-10) and Elena Delle Donne (1-4) were not able to get into any rhythm through three quarters and the two most important offensive players for the Sky finished with 15 points on 5/19 shooting from the field.
Sylvia Fowles (19 points 11 rebounds) had good surface value numbers, but needed 20 shots and had to play nearly every minute to get there.
Defensively the Mercury took the away everything the Sky tried to do with 11 blocks, 7 steals, forcing 16 turnovers (resulting in 20 points for the Mercury), 31.9% from the field, and 14.3% from three. The length was disrupting and the rotations were so crisp that whether the Sky went for ball movement or traditional pick-n-roll they were not able to get any offensive momentum.
Unfortunately for the Sky their star and leader Delle Donne was only able to log 10:24 in this game, all in the first half, and felt she was more of a negative impact on her team.
"I told coach to pull me," Delle Donne said after the game about her injury. "I'm not able to move. I'm not able to do anything that is helping the team. If I want to play the rest of the series maybe resting here will help with the next game."
So the white flag was raised and going into the second half the most dynamic player on the Sky was no longer a factor for the Mercury defense.
All of that led to, for the Mercury, more records were broken, but for the Playoffs and the WNBA Finals.
Diana Taurasi (19 points 11 assists) had the most assists in a half with 7 in the first half and tied for most in a game. Griner had the most blocks in a quarter (5 in the first), in a half (6 in the first half), and in a game with 8 blocks. As a team the Mercury gave up the fewest points in a half (20 in the first) and shot the highest percentage from the field (58.5%) in a single game. When this team walks on the court they make history.
Heading into Game Two on Tuesday, again at home, the Mercury did all the little things at the end to thwart any potential momentum by the Sky a la the Minnesota Lynx at the end of Game One of the Western Conference Finals.
"Yes, definitely," Coach Brondello on playing the starters deeper into the fourth quarter to stop the Sky from gaining any momentum.
"I wanted to finish playing well. We have two days off in-between so it is not a big deal for us and they kept their starters in so no real disadvantage in that regard. And just staying in rhythm. That is what it is all about. The season is not done so it is about staying in rhythm."
Starting quarters strong and closing out games is the marker of a championship team. With this win the Mercury are two more games of similar quality away from raising another banner as the Champions of their sport once again.