Late first half rally propels Mercury to 2-0 WNBA Finals lead over Chicago, 97-68
By David Siegel and Cheryl Coward
PHOENIX – The Chicago Sky figured if you cannot beat them, get aggressive. After getting handily dispatched in game one of the WNBA Finals by Phoenix, the Sky entered game two with a mindset to take it to the Mercury physically, aggressively defending Phoenix center Brittney Griner in particular. However, Phoenix had another record-breaking outing, defeating Chicago 97-68. The 29-point win marks the largest margin of victory in Finals history. The previous record was 28 by Los Angeles (82) vs. Charlotte (70) in September 2001.
“I thought Chicago really came out and as we expected, their guards got a little aggressive,” said Mercury head coach Sandy Brondello. “They tried to attack us off that penetration. I just thought we were at 90 percent ready to go. Sometimes when you’re at 90 percent, that 10 percent can get you out of your rhythm a little bit, but once we started paying more attention to detail, getting more physical, getting locked into defense, I think that’s where it helped us in the second half.”
In the first half Griner was on the receiving end of blows in dust ups with Sky centers Sylvia Fowles and Sasha Goodlett. She was hit in the eye twice resulting in cuts on her face according to Brondello. In addition, she went to the floor twice, writhing pain and chipped her tooth after one physical exchange with Goodlett in the second quarter.
Diana Taurasi addressed the physicality of the game and Griner’s injuries.
“Told her to get up; you only need one,” quipped Taurasi about the eye injury. “Get up. You got one eye, let’s go. But you know that’s pretty amazing how mature Brittney is, to be in a situation like that. She did get hurt. She has a cut on her left eye, and then on the next play, she loses a tooth. For her to keep her focus and not let herself get rattled and come out, and I think it kind of got her going for the rest of the game. It shows a lot of maturity.”
With starting guard/forward Elena Delle Donne showing improved movement and range in her sore back, Chicago kept the game close early, but still found itself trailing 21-14 after the first quarter. Delle Donne, held to two points in ten minutes in game one, played 28 minutes tonight, scoring 22 points. Still suffering from lower back inflammation, she wore a back brace under her uniform during game two.
“I definitely did a lot better tonight and was able to get warm and stay warm,” said Delle Donne about her health woes. “I tried on a new back brace that seemed to really help a lot too. Obviously I won’t be 100 percent for the rest of this series, but I’ll do anything possible to play this series out and try to figure it out when the series ends.”
When it seemed as if the Sky had the momentum to reverse their fortune in the Finals midway through the second quarter, the Mercury responded with a 20-5 run that turned a tie game into a 15-point lead they did not relinquish. At the half, Phoenix led 51-36.
The second half was more of the same as the Mercury cruised to victory and 2-0 series lead. The Mercury outscored to Sky 76-54 over the final three quarters.
All five Mercury starters scored in double figures, as they improved their 2014 playoffs record to 6-1, and 29-5 overall. Since Brondello inserted forward Penny Taylor into the starting lineup, the Phoenix is a mind-boggling 28-2.
Griner’s defense in the paint continued to torment Fowles who only hit 2-of-11 shots on her way to four points, well below her playoff average. The second-year center led Phoenix with 19 points plus six rebounds and four blocks. Taurasi added 18 points and DeWanna Bonner contributed 15 points plus seven rebounds. Taylor had a balanced effort with 14 points, eight rebounds and six assists. Candice Dupree was also in double figures with 10.
Brondello addressed the reasons why she thinks her team has been so successful this season.
“They’re an unselfish group,” she said. “We win because we have great teamwork and great chemistry.”
Taurasi concurred with Brondello.
“It might be one of the most unselfish and talented teams I’ve ever been on,” said Taurasi. “I don’t mean talented in how good BG [Brittney Griner] is, how good DB [DeWanna Bonner] is. I mean the willingness to do it for the next person. I’ve never been on a team like this in my whole career.”
Phoenix won its twentieth consecutive home game. Their last home loss was May 23, a 78-74 defeat vs. San Antonio.
Even though the Mercury has not had a serious threat in facing Chicago, they will go to Illinois on high alert.
“We respect our opponents,” said Brondello. She does not anticipate an easy time in Chicago saying she “expects and even harder effort” from the Sky in their own city. However she does not want to come back to US Airways Center for another game this season. “This better be our last game,” she quipped in reference to playing on the Mercury’s home court again in 2014.
For Chicago’s Delle Donne, the emphasis will be on “stopping the bleeding a lot faster” when Phoenix goes on runs. “We can’t make many mental mistakes because they’ll make you pay for it,” she continued. “We really have to clean a lot of things up.”
Phoenix will try to win their third WNBA championship on Friday night in Chicago at UIC Pavilion. The game will be televised on ESPN2 at 8 p.m. ET.
- Phoenix shot 56.1 percent (37-of-66) from the field, marking the third-best percentage in Finals history.
- With her 18 points, Diana Taurasi moved into second place on the Finals all-time scoring list with 239. She trails only Deanna Nolan who has 256 career points.
- Taurasi’s made three three-pointers, tying Katie Smith for the most treys in Final history at 36.