Hammon, Young Lead Silver Stars Comeback
Set franchise record 108 points in win over Mercury
By Ben York / @bjyork
If you’re going to devise a way to beat the Phoenix Mercury, slowing the pace down and making free-throws are absolutely essential. The Silver Stars did exactly that – San Antonio shot 28 free-throws in the 2nd half (making 25) to give them a 108-105 win over the Phoenix Mercury in spite of 39 points, 7 rebounds, and 7 assists from Diana Taurasi.
The game certainly didn’t start at such a slow pace. For about three quarters, the game was dominated by the Mercury on both ends of the floor. Candice Dupree finished with 19 points and 11 rebounds while Penny Taylor added 23 before leaving the game with a sprained ankle. Phoenix moved the ball well along the perimeter and in the paint as San Antonio seemingly did not have an answer. If they double-teamed Taurasi she fed it down low into Dupree; if they doubled Dupree the Mercury had an open shooter along the perimeter which led to 9 3-pt FG’s for Phoenix.
The first half stared at the frenetic, yet controlled pace the Mercury love to play at; 43 combined shots were made in the half. Diana Taurasi had a dominating performance for the first 20 minutes scoring 23 points on 8/11 from the floor (including 5/6 from downtown) to go with 7 rebounds and 4 assists. Candice Dupree chipped in with 11 points and 6 assists while Penny Taylor added 10 points and 3 assists. Becky Hammon had a quiet 8 points and 7 assists at the half for the Silver Stars as Sophia Young led San Antonio in scoring with 10. The energy level was through the roof for both teams leading to 14 fast-break points for the Mercury on 54% shooting from the floor and 53% 3-pt shooting. At the half, Phoenix had 14 assists on 22 made shots in a 59-49 advantage.
The 3rd quarter started exactly like the first half for Phoenix as they increased their lead over San Antonio to as many 15 points. Phoenix played with poise and intensity until fouls on the defensive end helped the Silver Stars erupt into an 18-3 run taking the lead with a minute left in the quarter, 78-77. Just 30 seconds later, Mercury forward Penny Taylor left the game with a sprained right ankle and wouldn’t return; Phoenix would sorely miss her.
Becky Hammon began to shred the Mercury defense and finished the quarter with a double-double, 12 points and 10 assists, as the pace slowed considerably due to the amount of fouls called. A well designed play from the Mercury which led to a Candice Dupree bucket with 1.4 seconds left in the quarter gave the Mercury an 81-79 advantage heading into the 4th. The back and forth game continued as well as the physicality of play throughout the rest of the game. Although the Silver Stars actually had more fouls called on them, the slow pace of play disrupted the Mercury’s rhythm for the rest of the game and they weren’t able to get back into a comfort zone.
San Antonio came into the night last in the league in scoring averaging 73 ppg yet managed to eclipse the 100 point mark with 3:19 to go in the game. Phoenix had multiple chances to take the lead in the final minute but wasn’t able to convert. Because of the pace, the Mercury wasn’t able to get out into transition and continue their blistering up-tempo play that was so successful in the first half.
“At halftime, we were just trading baskets with them,” Silver Stars head coach Sandy Brondello said. “We just were not running back. The transition defense was poor and it’s not all about the little things. It’s just the effort and getting back. We ended up playing more like a team and that’s what we needed to do to win.”
Becky Hammon systematically made things difficult for the Mercury defense all night. Hammon scored 21 points to go with her season-high 10 assists. Her facilitation and leadership allowed the Silver Stars to slowly creep back into the game in spite of being down double-digits.
“Overall, it was a great team win for us,” Hammon said after the game. “We really needed this win for our minds. It was a great test. We were down 10 points at half and to come back and win was great.”
Mercury coach Corey Gaines acknowledged how vital keeping the pace of play fast is for the Mercury’s success.They out-rebounded the Silver Stars but the free-throws and slow play is what really hurt Phoenix. The more free-throws the opposing team gets, the less likely Phoenix is to get out and run.
“The game went down to a free-throw, a stop, a clock stoppage, gum stoppage,” Gaines said. “It hurts us. There was no rhythm; that’s all I can say.”
In spite of Diana Taurasi’s best game of the year, the Mercury fell to 5-6 heading into a home game against Connecticut on Sunday. Needless to say, the individual accolades don’t matter if the team loses.
“We just can’t give away 15-point leads,” Taurasi said after the game. “We worked hard to get a lead and for whatever reason we put it in cruise control. These teams are good, and we’re not that good. We can’t play like that or we’ll lose games.”
Sophia Young finished with season-highs in points (25) and rebounds (10). Young was adamantly making an effort to take the ball to the hole since the refs were prone to calling a foul, especially in the 2nd half. Both teams found themselves in the penalty just halfway into each quarter.
“I just thought coming into this game that I had to be aggressive,” Young said regarding her play. “We have been struggling for the past couple of games and I just had to step up to my team and play as hard as I possibly can. That was my mentality.”
San Antonio now pulls into sole possession of 3rd place in the Western Conference (4-6) while the Mercury remains in 2nd place (5-6).