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Phoenix Mercury choked on its own infarcted heart in Game 3 — and I have thoughts

2021 WNBA Finals G3 - Phoenix Mercury v Chicago Sky Photo by Kamil Krzaczynski/NBAE via Getty Images

Despite being passive observers, fans experience the highest of highs and lowest of lows following their teams. Game 3 between the Phoenix Mercury and Chicago Sky was definitely earthworm territory for Mercury fans, and now, with the English language bereft of a single, perfect word to describe last night’s debacle, I must now make do with many angry words strung together.

Friday night was an embarrassment, not just for the Mercury and their fans but for the league itself. Here they were, supposedly the two best teams in the league with the series tied 1-1 going into a hinge game, and one of them plays as poorly as Charles Barkley and company after the Nerdlucks stole their basketball powers in Space Jam. It was so bad, the Washington Generals sent a sympathy card. It was so bad (how bad was it?), the Nate Robinson meme is the new team mascot.

In case you think all this hyperbole, let me remind you that the Mercury lost 86-50 — the largest margin of defeat in WNBA Finals history. They shot 25.8 percent from the field — also a Finals record for futility. They didn’t score more than 14 points in any quarter. Perhaps for those glass-half-full types, the fact the Mercury lost by 36 and not the 44 points presaged by the 46-24 halftime deficit is cause for celebration. I’ll skip the party horns and funny hats, thank you very much.

For the 5’9 Skylar Diggins-Smith, she looked to have met a challenge more daunting than her larger opponents — the Finals stage. Time and again the moment appeared too big for her, as missed shots and botched layups characterized her 2-of-9 night.

Brittney Griner, meanwhile, threw together a solid 3rd quarter (12 points on 6-of-9 shooting), but by then the effort was tantamount to seeking out a fire extinguisher aboard the alight Hindenburg. Had she been a bit more basketphilic in the 1st half (four points) and punished her single coverages, perhaps that period-three effort would be more than a footnote.

And then there was Diana Taurasi. 1-of-10 from the field. Five points. Careless. Most distressingly, unable to stem the tide through sheer force of will or summon the sleeping killer within as she so often has in her storied career. She looked tired, old. Simple defensive hedges and traps stymied her. Granted, she’s playing through a high left ankle sprain and a fracture in that same foot, but she also hung 37 points in 27 minutes on the Las Vegas Aces with the same limitations, so no excuses (not that she’d want any). Taurasi said nearly 11 months ago that her friends have a standing order from her: “The minute you see that I suck, tell me and I’m out.” Helpless games like this must whisper louder than her friends’ words ever could.

As for Brianna Turner, Sophie Cunningham, Shey Peddy, and the other role players? They were summarily swallowed by the rubble of the crumbling Big Three. Heck, Kia Nurse, torn ACL and all, could have thrown on a jersey and no one would have noticed a drop-off.

Every one of the Mercury’s demons surfaced at once last night. The lousy shooting. The lack of aggressiveness. The passive defense. The disinterest. And in a Finals game no less. Had they laid

this egg in Game 1, with all the turnaround issues from the semifinals taken into consideration, I might have shown some grace, however frayed it would have been. Here in Game 3, though, that horse’s hair has snapped, the Sword of Damocles fallen.

“Give [the Sky] all the credit, and let’s play on Sunday,” Diggins-Smith said postgame. If that was the lesson the Mercury took from this game, they will lose Game 4 on Sunday. Probably by a lot. Because the Sky didn’t beat the Mercury; the Sky merely did what good teams do in the Finals: show up. Eighty-six points is good, but it’s also what they scored in their Game 2 overtime loss in Phoenix on Wednesday. They weren’t world beaters last night. The Mercury, on the other hand, played with all the force of a Wiffle ball, all the resistance of Silly Putty, and all the focus of a seven-month-old golden retriever puppy. In short, they lacked the heart to win.

Why have I just spent the last 700 words ripping these ladies? Because I care. I am a Mercury fan as well as a Suns fan, have been since 2013, and my casual interest goes back further. I’ve written about them for this very site in the past. I watch every game available, just as I do with the Suns, carving out time from my day to do so. So when my time is disrespected and wasted —and make no mistake, that’s exactly what happened on Friday — I get upset. I can deal with a loss; that’s part of basketball. One team must lose. But to not show up, to not compete is inexcusable. Last night wasn’t another tough basketball game. It was a mercy killing.

Was I tempted to turn off the TV by the time the 4th quarter rolled around? Spare myself some undue agony? You bet. But I watched. All 40 minutes of torture porn gifted me by my favorite WNBA franchise. I suffered along. Because I care. I set the remote down and stared at my TV, dead-eyed, the same way Michael Myers stared at that wall in the asylum, just sitting in a room, staring at the TV, not seeing the TV, looking past the TV as the germinating seeds of this article took root in the ample fertilizer provided by that Game 3 performance.

And now I’m venting, as any loyal fan has the right to do after being so thoroughly disrespected. But as a fan, I take solace in knowing Phoenix seems to play best when left with no room for error. Give them an inch of breathing room, however, and they’ll drop their guard like a novice boxer. And they took a nasty one on the chin last night.

So on to Game 4 Sunday. I’ll be watching — and hoping the Mercury uphold their end of the bargain in this give and take.

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