September 4, 2020
Diana Taurasi narrowly misses another WNBA record
Phoenix Mercury win fifth straight, Sandy Brondello compares Brianna Turner to a blossoming flower
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PALMETTO, FL – SEPTEMBER 3: Kia Vaughn #1 of the Phoenix Mercury shoots the ball against the Indiana Fever on September 3, 2020 at Feld Entertainment Center in Palmetto, Florida. (Photo by Stephen Gosling/NBAE via Getty Images)
The Phoenix Mercury are right on schedule.
In their own way, the Mercury during Diana Taurasi’s late prime have nearly always trended upward as the season comes to a close. With six games left, Phoenix is on a five-game winning streak after a blowout of the Indiana Fever on Thursday night, 105-81.
And it’s not just that Phoenix is winning, but that they are developing a recipe for success that is replicable. Again against the Fever, Phoenix tallied more than 20 assists and fewer than 10 turnovers, while on the other end, Indiana shot poorly from the field and was kept quiet on the glass.
“We’re just playing selfless basketball,” head coach Sandy Brondello said postgame. “We talk about that all during the offseason that that’s how we want to play, (then) we faced some adversity and weren’t playing our best basketball, but we’ve just got a really nice team.
“They’re talking, they’re competing, and they’re playing together.”
Nursing a double-digit lead heading into the fourth quarter, it was not Phoenix’s dynamic guards who put the game away, but second-year forward Brianna Turner. The former first-round pick had a quieter first half defensively, but came alive in the final frame with five blocks, squelching the last embers of Indiana’s chances in the contest. Turner is now averaging 4.3 blocks per game since star center Brittney Griner left the Bubble.
“It’s like a flower, she’s kind of blossomed since BG left,” Brondello said. “She knows the responsibility that she brings to this team.”
Turner also posted a career-high scoring night with 14 points as the Mercury showed a more balanced scoring attack. But the Notre Dame alum wasn’t the only player who had a career night.
Thirty-eight-year-old Diana Taurasi, with eight made threes, nearly broke Kelsey Mitchell’s single-game record on a night when Taurasi was facing Mitchell herself. Taurasi was sitting on eight entering the fourth period but Brondello pulled her a few minutes into the period to steal rare rest for the veteran star, a decision that made obvious sense but robbed the night of history.
Though Mitchell’s record remained intact, Indiana’s star guard shot worse than 50 percent from the field and turned the ball over five times as the Fever slipped further in the playoff race. Indiana simply couldn’t keep pace with the offensive power of Taurasi and the Mercury.
There might be a tendency to look at the performance of Diana Taurasi — again among the most efficient high-usage play-makers in the WNBA in her 16th season — and give her all the credit. Indeed, Taurasi adds to her legendary career on a nightly basis, in this case tying the single-game league record for made three-pointers. But Taurasi was playing this well most of the year. It wasn’t until recently that the rest of the team came together around her.
Brondello sees selflessness, which she called “very enjoyable to coach,” and there is clearly an element of that based on the play-making numbers. Yet while typically selflessness is noticed when players give up good shots for great ones or lay out for a loose ball, equally impactful for this Mercury team is the sacrifice needed to settle into a role.
“When she’s playing like that, we’ve gotta play our asses off too,” Skylar Diggins-Smith said, “and not waste that performance.”