Coming off a 101-83 win over the Dallas Wings on Aug. 21, the No. 5 seed Phoenix Mercury travel to the East coast to take on the No. 4 seed Connecticut Sun. It is a rematch of 2017’s second-round single-elimination game that saw Phoenix upend Connecticut on the road and advance to the WNBA semifinals, and the Mercury will be attempting to give the Sun another quick exit from the playoffs today.
The game will be broadcast on ESPN 2 at 5:30 p.m. Phoenix time.
The Mercury rolled past the Wings on Tuesday by coming out aggressive after halftime and winning the 3rd quarter 26-15. The Mercury’s intensity staggered the Wings, who never mustered a significant threat to Phoenix’s victory from that point.
Diana Taurasi, who improved to 12-0 in winner-take-all games over her career, once again was the catalyst against Dallas. She finished with 26 points and 12 assists, sank six of her 12 3-point shots, and kept the Mercury poised through a nip-and-tuck first half.
DeWanna Bonner awakened in the second half, sparking the 3rd-quarter surge with her shot making and defensive effort. It also didn’t hurt that she found the bank was open long past normal business hours on two deep 3s. Bonner finished with a game-high 29 points on 12-of-19 shooting (4-7 from 3) to go along with 11 rebounds.
Brittney Griner posted a muted 17 points, but her defensive effort in limiting Liz Cambage was what Phoenix needed from her most, as Angel Robinson was no match for the Australian center off the bench.
And not to be overlooked was the play of Stephanie Talbot, who registered a double-double (11 points, 11 rebounds) manufactured almost entirely out of pure hustle.
The Mercury will now face a Connecticut team that poses different problems than the Wings did. Chiney Ogwumike, at 6’4, is a more versatile center than Cambage and has the ability to drag Griner away from the basket on defense. The same for Jonquel Jones off the Sun bench, who at 6’6 still finished second in the league in 3-point percentage (46.7 percent). In the backcourt, Jasmine Thomas and Courtney Williams finished second and third respectively on the team in scoring behind Ogwumike, with Williams leading the way against the Mercury in the regular season, averaging 17 points. Small forward Alyssa Thomas led Connecticut in rebounding at 8.1 per game.
The Sun come into the contest having won nine of their last 10 games to close the season. They will also be rested, their last game being played on Aug. 19 and their last road game coming on Aug. 10. The Mercury, meanwhile, had a long travel day getting to Connecticut after their win on Tuesday, but head coach Sandy Brondello isn’t using that as an excuse.
“We’re not tired, we’re hungry more than anything,” she told Jeff Metcalfe of azcentral.com. “We’re back playing good basketball. This team is driven, but we know every single game is a new challenge for us.”
For the Mercury to punch their ticket to the best-of-five semifinal series against either the No. 1 seed Seattle Storm or No. 2 seed Atlanta Dream (depending on the outcome of the Los Angeles Sparks vs. Washington Mystics game), they will need a more sustained effort similar to their second half against Dallas, where their swarming defense and offensive efficiency had the Wings mentally beaten before the 4th quarter even began. They will also need to exploit their size advantage down low with Griner, as the Sun, lacking anyone with enough size to defend her one on one, will be forced to double. Either Griner needs to dominate the post, or the Mercury shooters need to bury the Sun from deep on passes out of the double team.
The Mercury were a better team on the road this season, going 11-6 versus 9-8 at home, and hold a 2-1 regular-season edge over the Sun, their only loss coming on Jul. 13 (91-87). A third win over Connecticut in 2018 will send the Mercury to the semifinals for the sixth straight year.
Taurasi is just 35 points away from passing Tamika Catchings (1,141) for most career playoff points in WNBA history and seven assists from passing Catchings (223) for second-most career playoff assists in WNBA history. She has 1,107 points and 217 assists coming into the game.
Griner is three blocks away from passing Taj McWilliams-Franklin (68) for fourth on the career playoff blocks list. She has 66 blocks in just 27 games played.