For the Mercury, things seem to be going from bad to worse. After returning home from a three-game Eastern Conference road swing with no wins to their name, the Mercury were just happy to be home. However, after a spirited first half against the Washington Mystics, the happiness soon faded into disappointment.
The Mercury seemed to have put its stamp on the game throughout the first half, running and making plays on the break like the championship squads we've grown accustomed to. The Mystics, however, didn't just keel over and go away. Monique Currie of the Mystics came out and really got the Mystics back into the game, forcing Mercury head coach Corey Gaines to use an early timeout.
From there, the chippiness started to happen.
Players started complaining about calls, and the referees started calling them out on it. Temeka Johnson was called for a few reach-in fouls. Penny Taylor had a few frustration fouls. The game seemed to be slipping away of Phoenix, but the Mercury closed out the quarter hard and cut the Mystics' lead to five, 73-68.
The Mercury made a few late game runs to dig itself out of its hole, but it proved to be too little, too late. Katie Smith of the Mystics hit a huge three with Taurasi draped all over her, and from there, the game turned into a free throw shootout. The Mercury kept it interesting, hitting quick shots (including a long Diana Taurasi three to cut the lead to one) and fouling, but it was none other than Katie Smith who stepped up to the free throw line to ice the game.
Much of the focus wasn't put onto the players not trying. No one blamed the team for not playing hard or playing with spirit. The consensus seems to be that the team is just going through a rough patch and that this unlucky streak will make the team better for it. There was some blaming of the referees, however. Throughout multiple parts of the game, you could see the frustration boiling over with some of the players, and right then was about when the game fell out of reach of the Mercury.
All in all, it was a heartbreaking loss for the defending champions. There was no question that everyone seemed to be giving their all to pull out a victory, but only time will tell if this is just a rough patch or if this team just isn't what it used to be.
Diana Taurasi Injury Update
Having only played 27 minutes and shooting 5-for-12 from the field, some red flags were raised. Diana played the whole fourth quarter and muscled through the pain, but there was a grimace here or a wince there after a shot or rebound. Diana claimed after the game that her back "feels fine", but her on court body language was more telling.
On the losing streak:
We're there every game, and we're working hard and fighting hard, but it's just those extra little things. When it comes down to it, it's a couple of plays here and there that we aren't getting done and it's making the difference at the end of the game.
On the team's chemistry:
At times, we're playing great basketball and we're doing exactly what we want to do, it's just we're not doing it across the forty minutes. It's just more than anything, we're struggling in periods to get everyone on the boards and get rebounds or even loose balls. Us not getting those are really costing us. When we get ahead, we let teams back into it. We're not closing it out the way we always have. So, I think we're doing the right things, just not across the forty minutes.
On dropping another close game:
Top teams in the Eastern Conference, we've been going at them. I guess it's the little things that make the big things happen. Missed free throw here, missed layup here, missed box out. It's just one of those things that I haven't experience before. I don't know what to say. I'm a young coach too; I've been calling around asking everybody, so I don't know what to say. They're fighting. They're not quitting. They're a little tired and beat up, mangled ... They're listening. It's just a couple little things that you don't do right, and of course they don't make the big thing happen — the win.
On the losing streak:
The thing is, we're still in third. See, it's different when you have a six-game losing streak and you're in last. You're in third, you're in the playoffs still, and the way the Western Conference is looking, we'll be in the playoffs.
On the losing streak:
We're just falling short. I don't necessarily think we got out-played. We've been playing hard. We've been doing a lot of good things. Right now, we're just getting unlucky, and certain things aren't going our way, but we have to stick with it.