By: Kayla Mortellaro
PHOENIX— The Phoenix Mercury started off the afternoon against the Minnesota Lynx with energy, passion, and an aggressive mentality.
Getting off to a fast start was something that the Mercury have not done often this season, but Sunday afternoon Phoenix had a three point lead after the first quarter and built it to a 15 point lead by half-time, and eventually won 79-67 in front of 9,492 fans at US Airways Center.
“It wasn’t even about Minnesota, or our opponent, it was more about focusing on what we needed to do,” head coach Sandy Brondello said after the game. “I thought it was one of our better games for the season. We talk about just staying together as a unit, and I thought we really did that. It showed. Trust each other and play together as a team, and usually good things happen.”
As a team, the Mercury shot 46.2 percent from the floor, and held the Lynx to 38.7 percent shooting, much of which was accumulated in garbage time. The reigning league MVP, Maya Moore, was held to just 5-of-17 shooting, which included a 1-of-10 first half. Moore finished the game with 17 points and four rebounds.
“Obviously, we had a miserable first half offensively,” Lynx head coach Cheryl Reeve said, who was ejected from the game late in the third quarter. “I have to give credit to Phoenix’s defense, they were very aggressive. We were mindful of the fact that Phoenix had lost three in a row and two of which were at home. They are a very prideful group, especially at home. I thought they came out and played in the first half with the aggressiveness that was necessary.”
The swarming defense for the Mercury continued as they held Rebekkah Brunson to zero points and two rebounds. In the three games combined prior to Sunday, Brunson scored 31 points and hauled in 23 boards against Phoenix. Slyvia Fowles who is now fully acclimated to Minnesota’s system since joining the team after the All-Star break, scored 16 points and 12 rebounds.
Fowles played much of the afternoon, clocking in nearly 35 minutes of game time. Brittney Griner played 34 minutes, and she had the task of dealing with Fowles on both ends of the floor. But as the opponent gets tougher, Griner’s game rises to the occasion.
“She’s [Fowles] just as big as I am,” Griner said. “It’s always good, I like it, it’s different. I don’t see a lot of doubles, they aren’t doubling and tripling me. I definitely want to bring my A-game, not to say it’s easy on the other nights, but there is not that height difference like on the other nights.”
Griner notched her seventh double-double of the season with 10 points, 11 rebounds, and six blocked shots.
For the Mercury, DeWanna Bonner had a game-high 21 points, four rebounds, and three blocked shots. Monique Currie added 10 points, and Candice Dupree notched nine points and six rebounds. Noelle Quinn contributed 11 points off the bench. There was one difference to the look of the Mercury, Marta Xargay was inserted into the starting rotation, getting her first career WNBA start.
“I thought Marta [Xargay] gives us a little bit more push and tempo at the start the game, and that’s a quarter we need to get out of the gates much better than we have in the past,” Brondello said.
Xargay contributed seven points and four assists, to go along with her hustle and energy on both ends of the floor.
“I think we have to push more tempo, have to more aggressive on defense, and just play like I do,” Xargay from Spain said after the game.
The chemistry and energy the Mercury had was evident from the start of the game. They controlled the pace of the game, and were the more aggressive team. Phoenix won the rebounding battle, 38-29, which also included eight offensive rebounds.
“Today, we set little goals for ourselves and that was to have the rebound margin,” Brondello said. “It was good, maybe I should have started that a few games ago. But that just gives us a focus point and things we need to work on for that game. But championships are won with defense and rebounding, and I thought we did both tonight pretty well.”
The Mercury snapped a three-game skid and also got a much needed win against the Western Conference leading Lynx (19-9). Phoenix is now 16-11 on the season and closed the gap to 2.5 games behind Minnesota. However, the Mercury own the tie-breaker by leading the Lynx three games to one, with just one more match-up left in the regular season between the two.
The Mercury kick off a three-game road trip in Connecticut, then travel to Washington, followed by a trip to Minnesota. Coach Brondello believes the team just has to stay focused.
“It’s just taking one game at a time,” Brondello said. “It’s now about being consistent and winning on the road, you know, we have three in four days.”
But Bonner puts it more matter of fact as to what the Mercury need to do on the road trip.
“We gotta win and keep that second spot [in the western conference], so that’s our motivation to keep that second spot so we can have home court in the first round [of the playoffs],” Bonner said.
The Mercury will face the Connecticut Sun Thursday, August 27, at 4 p.m., the Washington Mystics Friday, August 28, at 4 p.m., and the Minnesota Lynx Sunday, August 30, at 4 p.m.
It will not be all business for the Mercury as they depart for their road trip. The team will stop in Washington D.C. Wednesday August, 26th to be honored by President Obama for the team’s 2014 WNBA Championship.