PHOENIX MERCURY

Mercury taking resiliency and poise away from WNBA Finals run

Oct 19, 2021, 8:32 PM

A championship may not have been in the cards for the Phoenix Mercury in 2021, but the team is taking away positive lessons and motivations from a disappointing result.

Phoenix fell to the Chicago Sky 80-74 on Sunday in Game 4 of the WNBA Finals. Chicago won the series 3-1 to take its first WNBA title in franchise history.

Phoenix’s downfall came in the fourth quarter. The Mercury shot just 3-of-18 from the field in the quarter compared with Chicago’s 10-of-15.

Mercury head coach Sandy Brondello said on Monday fatigue played a role in the fourth quarter with certain important elements missing.

“We didn’t quite communicate and execute what we wanted to and I thought we did for the most part of the game,” Brondello said.

“The magic slipped away from our hands pretty quickly and reality hit,” Diana Taurasi said.

Taurasi struggled on Sunday despite scoring 16 points. She shot just 4-of-16 from the floor, with three of the made baskets coming from behind the arc.

Taurasi and the rest of team spoke on Monday after not speaking to the media following Sunday’s loss. The WNBA announced on Tuesday that the Mercury were fined $10,000 for violating the league’s rules surrounding postgame access.

She said that Sunday’s loss gives everyone teaching moments and something to remember from the 2021 season.

“No matter if you’re going to be 40 or you’re going to be 24, there’s always something to be learned,” she said.

It may be easy to take away the negatives after a defeat in which the Mercury were outscored 26-11 in the fourth quarter. However, there are more than enough positive lessons to take away from 2021.

One of those lessons is resiliency.

No one knows that lesson more than Taurasi this season. She missed half of the regular season and Phoenix’s first-round game against the New York Liberty due to various injuries.

However, she came back with key performances in the playoffs. Taurasi scored at least 20 points in four playoff games this season, including a playoff career-high of 37 points in Game 2 of Phoenix’s semifinal series against the Las Vegas Aces.

Taurasi said that it wasn’t just her with a fighting spirit this season.

“I’ve never seen a team fight this hard ever,” Taurasi said. “This team has a grit that was just incredible and I really enjoyed it.”

Center Brittney Griner also took away the team’s resiliency as a key lesson from this season.

“If we had a complete team or if we had six players, we were going to go out there and battle,” Griner said.

Griner’s performance in 2021 gave her more than enough positive takeaways from the season. Her 20.5 points per game in the regular season put her in second in the WNBA only behind Washington Mystics center Tina Charles.

Griner took her rebounding game to the next level with a career-high 9.5 rebounds per game.

“That’s the best she’s played,” Brondello said. “That’s by far the best just with how calm she was handling all the different situations.”

Griner’s next step in her career may be to win her first WNBA MVP award. She came close in her ninth WNBA season this year, finishing as the runner-up to Connecticut Sun forward Jonquel Jones.

From a team perspective, Griner likes how the pieces are coming together.

“We’ve been together and we’re really meshing well now, so I can’t wait to see how it’s going to blossom,” Griner said.

The Mercury have some decisions to make in the offseason with some of this year’s players. Forwards Alanna Smith and Brianna Turner are on club options for next season. Guards Kia Nurse and Shey Penny are due to become restricted free agents. Everyone else on the team, including Taurasi, Griner and first-team All-WNBA guard Skylar Diggins-Smith, is under contract for the 2022 season.

Phoenix’s WNBA Finals defeat may have been the first experience in the WNBA’s final stage for Diggins-Smith, but it’s not her first experience of coming close to a title in her career. She went to the NCAA Women’s Final Four three times in college at Notre Dame, losing twice in the national championship game.

She said each experience of coming close to a championship, whether now with Phoenix or back in her college days, fuels her to reach the top even more.

“It does nothing but drive me,” Diggins-Smith said. “I think that if I didn’t go through those experiences, I don’t know where I would be today. I kind of needed those experiences to push me and motivate me to reach that ultimate pinnacle.”

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