July 4, 2021 

Mercury ‘slapped in the face’ in Saturday night slaughter by Lynx

Listless effort has Phoenix questioning everything entering brutal final week

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PHOENIX — The Phoenix Mercury had the largest crowd in the WNBA this season in the house for Saturday night’s rematch with the Minnesota Lynx. But the game those 8,182 fans got saw the home team get run out of the gym by Minnesota, a 99-68 obliteration that has the Mercury questioning everything.

“Just disappointing. I’m just kind of speechless,” head coach Sandy Brondello said. We’ve got a lot of things to work out. It’s embarrassing on our home court. We need to find out how we want to play. That was a poor showing.”

After a closely-contested 82-76 Lynx win on Wednesday and a relatively close first quarter on Saturday, Minnesota blew the doors off of the Mercury with a 37-point second quarter before holding Phoenix to 27 points for the entire second half.

It was the second-straight night where the Lynx shot better than 50% from the field (making 55.1% of shots on Saturday), and they were once again led by a stellar effort from Kayla McBride, who had her second-straight 9-for-13 shooting night and scored 24 on Saturday after dropping 26 on Wednesday.

“We didn’t bring it. We didn’t bring it tonight, we didn’t do anything tonight,” Brondello said. “Obviously, we gave McBride, she had 21 in the first half, we had a scout in place and she’s a shooter — everyone knows that. We can’t guard their post players posting up, we just struggled. We couldn’t guard Clarendon on pick-and-rolls. We just struggled all around.”

Guard Shey Peddy added, “They have multiple shooters, from guards to post players. I think they did a really good job of spacing us out and when they had a mismatch inside, they threw it in and made us have to react and go trap or help, and they were able to kick it out and knock down some shots. They hit some good shots, some wide open shots. A hell of a night for them.”

It’s still a listless effort from the Mercury on the night on both ends of the floor, whose struggles with their shooting coalesced with their worst shooting night of the season (21-for-64 for 32.8%). The team’s highest scorer was Skylar Diggins-Smith, who had 12 points, and one game after she opened the night 10-for-10, Brittney Griner only took five shots total, making one in a six-point effort.

On the heels of the evening’s dismantling that cost them the season series against the Lynx, the Mercury having many conversations and will likely hold a team meeting in the next day or two, but the feeling around the team right now is clear.

“Excuse my language but it’s shitty,” Peddy said. “We’re much better than we showed out there tonight. And it sucks, it sucks to see us come out, from start to finish, and play the way we did. We just have to re-evaluate, really have a long discussion with each other and move forward.”

The 31-point loss is Phoenix’s first 30-point loss since they had a 36-point loss in Minnesota on August 22, 2017. It also drops the Mercury to 2-7 on their home floor, a record that is startlingly bad for the team that’s historically been one of the best in the WNBA on their home floor. In fact, there’s only been one season in their existence when the Mercury lost more games than they won in Phoenix (2012, when they went 3-14), a stat in which it seems more likely that 2021 will join than not, at this point.

“It’s deflating, to be quite honest,” Brondello said of the loss. “We’re way better than that, but we need to find our game. We need to play with a little bit more pride in what we’re doing.”

There’s been a strong frustration around the team with how they’re being officiated right now, and the Mercury were assessed three technical fouls in the first half alone on Saturday: one for Diana Taurasi (her second-straight game with one), one for Diggins-Smith and one for Brondello. And, in case you think it’s just the players and coaches after the third technical foul, a prominent member of the Mercury’s front office was screaming their displeasure at the referees, too.

But even when not assessed a technical, Phoenix is clearly allowing the calls (or lack thereof) that they disagree with to carry over for a play or two — or occasionally longer.

“Without a doubt, and me too — I got too emotional, too involved in that,” Brondello said. “Regardless of they’re good or bad, we’ve got to make sure we stay even-keel. That took us out of any kind of rhythm, it gave them a lot the momentum. Obviously, they got all of the calls, didn’t really affect anything and it took us out of the game. I’ve got to do a better job and we’ve got to control our emotions a little bit better.”

While saying she hopes she doesn’t get fined for saying so, Peddy agreed that the team is letting those calls they are questioning affect them mentally.

“Today, it definitely showed we were very frustrated with the refs,” Peddy said. “We didn’t agree with a lot of calls, I feel like we didn’t get a lot of calls our way. When it’s continuous, play-after-play-after-play, it gets in your head and it’s hard to get out of it. Especially when they’re coming down on the other end and hitting shots and we’re not making shots. It’s just building up frustration. We’ve just got to find a way to tune out the refs, block them out and don’t let them dictate how we play on the offensive end and just be better. It’s just hard, being in the moment.”

In speaking to the fans in a postgame Q&A session, Griner answered a question about the referees by saying, ““We’ve got to let y’all boo them out of the gym so we can re-focus on the game.”

But there’s no amount of referee decisions that could make up the 31-point margin on Saturday. And with their three remaining games before the Olympic break coming up against the league’s two best teams — one at Las Vegas, and two games against Seattle (one home, one away) — it’s clear the team has a lot of things to go through internally.

“The way we play like today, we’re going to be in for some tough games,” Brondello said. “But we’re better than what we showed. It’s more, ‘Okay, we’re playing the best teams, so what kind of team’s going to show up?’ That’s it. What kind of team’s going to show up? We’re disappointed and we’re better than that.

“The most important thing here is we’ve got to work it out and we’ve got to stay together. That’s the key. It’s not that we’ve missed the playoffs or anything, we’re right there, but we know we’ve got to start finding our game. I suppose we’ve got it cut out for us, but we’re capable of beating anyone. But we’re capable of losing to anyone too.”

Peddy added, “If today was the last game before the break, it would’ve left a bad taste in our mouth. We’ve got 3 games until next month. I think we need to come out, fight and try to grab all three of these games so we can have some momentum to come back to and just continue to work.”

And, while there may be some things to learn from rewatching the blowout Saturday, Brondello doesn’t need to see it to know what the team needs to do.

““We burn [the tape],” Brondello said. “This is more mental for me. This is mental. We need to work out, ‘Okay, make a choice.’ We got slapped in the face. We’re a better team than that. We know that. We’ve shown it at times. We haven’t been consistent all season long and we need to put 40 minutes together. There are opportunities, we’ve got 3 games before the Olympic break. We’ve got to be mentally ready to compete against the very best.”

This is a Mercury team that not only has 3-of-12 Olympians on the U.S. national team, but also felt like they were title contenders entering the season and have made moves following such belief, including trading away next year’s first round pick.

But combine the way they’re playing right now and their schedule next week, and Phoenix is staring at a 7-12 record entering the Olympic break. Perhaps their greatest test of the season will be seeing if they can avoid digging the hole they’ll have to climb out of after the break from getting that deep.

Written by Alex Simon

SF Bay Area native, 2x grad (Elon, ASU), adjunct professor at ASU's Cronkite School, editor & journalist always looking to tell unique stories.

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