By: Kayla Mortellaro
PHOENIX— The Phoenix Mercury saved their most complete game for their 21st game of the season and knocked off the Minnesota Lynx 73-66 Friday night.
The Mercury were aided by strong rebounding, bench play, and the usual solid play from the big-three.
“We knew that it would have to be 40 minutes and it was a game of runs,” head coach Sandy Brondello said. “Momentum changed as we scored seven points in the second quarter and then we had a pretty solid third quarter. We buckled down and executed when we needed to. It was a great team effort, so I’m happy with the result.”
The 10,120 fans in attendance at U.S. Airways Center were treated to a playoff-like atmosphere where the Mercury out-rebounded the Lynx 37-31 including a 10-3 advantage on the offensive boards. Brittney Griner had another double-double with 13 points, 12 rebounds and 6 blocks. Her six blocks on the night moved her into the all-time franchise lead with 274 blocks.
DeWanna Bonner added 15 points, 3 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 blocks on the night. Her 15 points propelled her into the 3,000 point club in the WNBA with 3,007. And Candice Dupree notched 11 points, 6 rebounds and 4 assists.
But the big hero of the night was Marta Xargay, who returned from an ankle injury she suffered July 21, just before the All-Star break. Xargay boosted the Mercury with 15 points off the bench with 4 rebounds and 3 assists.
“Well, when I don’t think about doing many things, I feel more relaxed,” Xargay said about her night.
A healthy Xargay is a huge lift off the bench for the Mercury with her versatility on the offensive and defensive side of the ball, plus her length at the guard position. She is in her first season with the Mercury as well as in the WNBA. She finds herself a part of a team that owns a 14-7 record, and has not lost a game since returning from the All-Star break.
“It’s really fun,” Xargay, who is from Spain, said about being a member of the Mercury. “I was a little scared to come here because of the language and everything, but all my teammates help me a lot.”
The chemistry that the Mercury players have on and off the court is becoming very evident. They are playing their best basketball, including tonight with arguably their most complete effort.
The Mercury held Minnesota’s Maya Moore to 17 points and six rebounds. And the newest acquisition to their team, Slyvia Fowles, to 11 points and five rebounds. Lindsay Whalen only had eight points along with five assists. Unfortunately for the Lynx, Seimone Augustus is out indefinitely with a knee injury.
For the Mercury, they have now won three consecutive games against the Lynx at home and are 2-1 against Minnesota this season. The hard-charging Mercury have closed the gap on the Lynx in the Western Conference. Phoenix stands one game back of Minnesota with 13 games left in the regular season.
Even though the Mercury have gotten the better of the Lynx in the last couple of meetings, the two teams play physical, tough, defensive games.
“It’s the two best teams in the league so I’d expect nothing but a dogfight, which is what we saw,” Lynx head coach Cheryl Reeve said. “We played great defense in the second and the fourth quarter, but not in the first and third. They had some timely baskets, terrific play from Marta. Things that you do at home, they give you life and give you energy and obviously, they got that done. Five minutes to go in the game and we said, ‘we’re on the road. We want to be right there and in it.’ We did that; we just couldn’t come up with the plays.”
Bonner, who is a seven-year veteran and was a part of the 2014 WNBA Championship team, is well aware of how important this win was against the Lynx. But she is not allowing herself to get too far ahead of just focusing on the next game.
“It was huge, now we are one game behind,” Bonner said. “But still not worried about that, have a big game coming up in Chicago. I think it just showed a lot of character and I think that is what we need to win a championship. Everybody knows you have to go through Minnesota to win. It was just a huge win, and a confidence booster for our team.”
Friday’s physical game may have been a preview for what is to come in the WNBA playoffs. The two teams are separating themselves from the rest of the west and the road to the finals may come through either of these two teams.
The Mercury look to extend their five-game winning streak Sunday in Chicago against the 13-9 Sky. Phoenix took game one this season against Chicago in overtime at U.S. Airways Center.
Tip-off is Sunday at 11:00 a.m. on ESPN.