Mercury Edge Sparks in Thriller
The defending WNBA Champions start the 2010 season with a win.
In 2008, the Mercury opened the season at home against the Los Angeles Sparks after winning the WNBA Championship in 2007. In that game, Candace Parker exploded for 32 points, 12 rebounds, and 8 assists in a Sparks victory.
This time, in an eerily similar game, the Mercury came out on top thanks to late-game heroics by Penny Taylor; who, coincidentally, was not with the team for their opening game in 2008.
Mercury fans (almost 15,000 in attendance) breathed a collective sigh of relief that Penny was there today.
Flying in to join the team less than 48 hours ago, Penny Taylor scored 16 points in 30 minutes of action, including two free-throws with 1.5 seconds left which sealed the win for the Mercury, 78-77 over the Sparks.
In many ways, this was an atypical win for the Mercury; they didn’t shoot the ball very well from beyond the arc (4-14, 28.6%), their assist count was low (8 total), and Diana Taurasi had just 14 points on 2-11 shooting. Conversely, the Sparks had 24 more shot attempts, fewer turnovers, and an excellent game from Candace Parker (24 points, 12 rebounds, 2 assists, and 2 steals).
The Mercury’s new acquisition, Candice Dupree, started the game hot; she hit her first two shots and immediately set the tone for the Mercury. Dupree began her Mercury campaign with a team-highs in points (17) and rebounds (10). However, Candace Parker was in the midst of doing the same thing for the Sparks scoring 12 points and grabbing 5 rebounds in the 1st quarter alone (she finished with 24 and 12). Early on, the Sparks were getting every shot they wanted down low scoring 14 of their 23 points in the paint.
Being without Nicole Ohlde due to a foot injury, the Mercury were missing a big part of their defense in the paint. Sensing that Parker was poised for another monstrous night, Mercury head coach Corey Gaines then switched to his “Rover” zone defense in the 2nd quarter to prevent the Sparks big’s from penetrating. Diana Taurasi, the “Rover”, was all over the court challenging entry passes from players along the perimeter to Candace Parker and getting out on the shooters beyond the arc. The Sparks scored just 12 points in the quarter to the Mercury’s 23. Phoenix entered the half with a 7 point lead.
The Sparks then exploded in the 3rd quarter thanks in large part to the play of rookie point guard, Andrea Riley. Riley was able to penetrate and draw several fouls on the Mercury defense which led to 7 free-throw attempts by Riley in the quarter. In the first half, the Mercury had a big edge in personal fouls with just 6 while the Sparks were called for 14. Though, not surprisingly, the referees quickly remedied the gap in fouls called on the Mercury by charging Phoenix with 10 fouls in the 3rd quarter alone.
Entering the 4th quarter, the game was tied at 61. The lead would change several times during the first 7 minutes of the quarter which had its share of chippy moments. Tina Thompson was charged with a flagrant foul on Candace Dupree and Diana Taurasi would be assessed a technical foul for a scrum with Delisha Milton-Jones. The lead would go back and forth down to the wire – after an amazing shot by Noelle Quinn with 4.7 seconds left in the game, the Mercury called a quick 20-second timeout to draw up one final play.
Penny Taylor inbounded the ball to Candice Dupree on the block. Knowing the Sparks were in the penalty, she took a jab-step left before cutting backdoor. Dupree made a nice pass to Taylor who ended up being fouled by Candace Parker. Taylor sank both free-throws to give the Mercury the win, 78-77.
After the game, in typical Penny Taylor fashion, she deflected the credit to to entire team as a whole. “It says a lot about our team,” Taylor said. “It’s a different team than last year but regardless of those differences we are a winning team and we are going to do what it takes to win.”
Perhaps Diana Taurasi said it best when describing the unusually low-scoring, turnover-heavy game by the Mercury. “We have only been together as a team for one day,” said Taurasi about the team’s chemistry. “We have a lot of things to fix. We usually don’t turn the ball over as much and we were a little sloppy, but that all comes with timing and we will get better at that.”
Sparks head coach (and former Mercury player) Jennifer Gillom made her coaching debut today. You could clearly sense her influence on the team with their faster style of play. Having to rely on rookie point guard Andrea Riley due to veteran Ticha Penicheiro having an Achilles injury, Gillom expressed her praise of the young point guard as well as her appreciation of the fans in Phoenix. “Andrea is learning,” Gillom said after the game. “I thought she did a good job of running the ball club and distributing the ball as she needed to. I didn’t know what to expect with the fans here but I thought they were great. It was good basketball tonight.”
Although Candice Dupree led the Mercury in scoring and rebounding, Corey Gaines said it was just an “okay” game for her.
“I told her she played so-so,” Gaines said about Dupree. “She had 17 [points] and 10 [rebounds] and that’s sub-par for her. There were a couple of occasions where she could have done different things, which we’ll work on. After all, it’s her first game with us and we’ll get better.”
- Phoenix defeated the Sparks for the 5th time in their last six meetings.
- The Mercury improved to 7-7 all-time in hope openers.
- Los Angeles had more assists (18, Mercury 8), more offensive rebounds (14, Mercury 10), less turnovers (13, Mercury 22), and more 3-pt field goals (5, Mercury 4).