Phoenix Mercury seek to build upon post-Olympics winning streak

Aug 26, 2021, 12:33 PM
Diana Taurasi #3 of the Phoenix Mercury dribbles against Kylee Shook #24 of the New York Liberty du...
Diana Taurasi #3 of the Phoenix Mercury dribbles against Kylee Shook #24 of the New York Liberty during the second half at Barclays Center on August 25, 2021 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. The Mercury won 106-79.

Before the WNBA took a month-long break for the Tokyo Olympics, the Phoenix Mercury struggled to put together a consistent winning track record. Phoenix was 9-10 at that point, having lost seven of its final 11 games before the Olympics.

In the five games following the Olympic break, the Mercury are finding any way possible to win games. Wednesday night’s 106-79 win against the New York Liberty showed what Phoenix is capable of when playing to its potential. It was Phoenix’s first game topping 100 points all season.

The win gave Phoenix its fifth consecutive victory, its longest winning streak of the season. The recent success has put the Mercury in fifth in the WNBA standings, just four games behind the first-place Connecticut Sun.

Point guard Skylar Diggins-Smith, center Brittney Griner and shooting guard Diana Taurasi each scored over 20 points against the Liberty. Diggins-Smith led the team with 27 points. Griner and Taurasi nearly had double-doubles with nine rebounds and nine assists, respectively.

The experience of the Mercury’s stars showed in final minutes, when New York had the lead down to 10 points. Taurasi stepped up with three assists on consecutive possessions to put the game away.

Taurasi said after the game her 17 years of experience in the WNBA helped her perform when it mattered the most.

“Those are the moments when you rely on experience and knowing that we need to get a certain shot right now,” Taurasi said. “This is a critical time in the game where they’re playing well. There’s certain people that need to touch the ball at certain times and I think we did that on three consecutive possessions that put it out of reach.”

When Taurasi joined Arizona Sports’ Bickley & Marotta on Tuesday, she said the amount of talent the Mercury has is enough to go for another championship. Now, the team needs to put it all together.

“We have as much talent as anyone else,” Taurasi said on Tuesday.  “Can we come here and focus every single day and build that momentum and I think we see that right now. We’re just as confident as anyone else. We’re trying to go for (championship) number four.”

Phoenix coach Sandy Brondello shared that sentiment, noting that she likes the progress that the Mercury have made.

“We’re heading in the right direction, but we still got to keep building and stay healthy,” Brondello said.

Staying healthy is a lot easier said than done, though. Wednesday night, unfortunately for the Mercury, showed exactly that. Griner exited in the final minutes against the Liberty with an ankle injury.

Griner is questionable to appear in Phoenix’s next game on Friday against New York. The game will mark the second meeting in the Barclays Center in three days.

Diggins-Smith said playing teams in consecutive games, which is common in the WNBA schedule, does not bother her at all. If anything, she thinks it makes adjustments even more important.

“You’ll see the jump from game to game in who makes the adjustments,” Diggins-Smith said. “That’s what I think it’s about in these series. Somebody is going to make an adjustment, so we both have to be different.”

She also knows how critical every game is in the run to the postseason. After Friday’s game, the Mercury will only have seven games to build upon their post-Olympic momentum before the playoffs.

Phoenix is currently one game behind the Minnesota Lynx for fourth place. As of now, that would be the difference between the Mercury entering the WNBA Playoffs in the first round and getting a bye to the second round.

“Every year it comes down to the last game in terms of seeding, so we have to stay focused,” Diggins-Smith said. “We have to continue to build and find ways to get better. We have a lot of tough teams ahead of us who have the same mindset as we do.”

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