Phoenix Mercury Lock Down San Antonio Silver Stars To Sweep Series 2-0

Well done by Phoenix to win so convincingly on the road and to do it mostly with solid defense and, of course, Diana Taurasi.

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Phoenix Mercury Cruise To Series Sweep Over San Antonio Silver Stars

San Antonio, CA (Sports Network) - Reigning WNBA MVP Diana Taurasi scored 23 points to lead the Phoenix Mercury to a 92-73 rout of the San Antonio Silver Stars and sweep the Western Conference semifinal series.

Candice Dupree added 19 points and 11 rebounds for the defending champion Mercury, who won both games of the series to advance to their third conference finals in four seasons. Penny Taylor had 12 points and 12 assists for second- seeded Phoenix, which will play either top-seeded Seattle or fourth-seeded Los Angeles in the next series.

Tangela Smith had 16 points and nine rebounds for the victors.

Becky Hammon had 21 points and seven assists to lead the Silver Stars, who fell to the Mercury in the conference semis for the second consecutive season. Sophia Young added 15 points and nine rebounds, while Ruth Riley had 13 points in defeat.

Phoenix never trailed in this game, beginning the contest on a 21-2 run to seal the outcome early. A string of 19 straight points ended with Dupree's layup with a little more than four minutes left in the first quarter, and the Mercury held a 30-15 lead after 10 minutes.

The lead expanded to 18 at halftime, 48-30, and the Mercury cruised to the finish line down the stretch.

 

Additional Notes

  • Any questions if the Mercury could and would turn it up in the playoffs have been answered. Throw that 15-19 record out the window, this team is ready for money time.
  • Loved the adjustment to play Taurasi off-the-ball more on the road. You know star players make shots on the road that role players don't. Having Penny Taylor (12 assists) and Temeka Johnson (7 assists) gives Coach Gaines the luxury to adjust his game plan.
  • Defensively, the Mercury were solid again albeit against a team that had limited options and never looked to me like they believed they could win the series. In shoot-around before Game 1 they already looked beat. Mercury held San Antonio to 37.5% from the field and their three-point shooting returned to their season average at about 32%.
  • I gave Tangela Smith hell all season for her low energy level which I think was part of the reason she shot the ball so poorly and inconsistently. She's proven again this year that she's a veteran who knows how to step up her game in the playoffs. 16 points, 9 rebounds on 7-for-9 shooting.
  • Temeka Johnson is going to HAVE to hit those open shots against the Storm.
  • Becky Hammon continues to prove why she's one of the great players in the game. Tough as nails but just too much to ask of her to carry the entire team.
  • San Antonio did a better job matching Phoenix in the paint and in transition: The team's tied with 34 points in the paint each; tied with 10 second chance points each; 23-16 points off turnovers advantage for San Antonio; and San Antonio outscored Phoenix 24-15 in the fast break.
  • The difference was the Mercury shooting 53% from the field (mostly in the half court game) and preventing the Silver Stars from getting good looks. Defense. Half-court offense. Playoff basketball.
  • When you can win on the road in a playoff elimination game and win big by playing out of your comfort zone than you are a dangerous team.
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Mercury Face First Playoff Road Test In San Antonio

There's little doubt that the Mercury will win this series but if they hope to repeat as WNBA Champions this year they are going to need to win big playoffs games on the road.

With a 15-19 regular season record, this is the only round where the team will have home court advantage.

After beating the Silver Stars convincingly in Game 1 in Phoenix, the Mercury will try and closeout the series today in Texas. It is important that they do so and demonstrate they can win on the road. The additional rest would also be a bonus before seeing their likely next round opponent, the Seattle Storm.

I would expect the Silver Stars to pay a little more attention to Candice Dupree who torched them for 32 points in Game 1 but that will only open more things up for Diana Taurasi who faced multiple defenders on Thursday.

It remains to be seen if Roneeka Hodges and Edwige Lawson-Wade can repeat their 6-for-9 three point shooting performance. Without those points that game would have been over even sooner.

For the Mercury, the challenge is to defend aggressively but avoid picking so many fouls. They sent San Antonio to the line for 31 free throw attempts. The team has a tendency to slap at the ball instead of playing hands up solid defense. It's a fine balance between going for the steal and being aggressive and playing smart.

The game starts at 10:00am AZT on ESPN 2.

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Mercury Defense Fuels Separation

The Phoenix Mercury are known as a great offensive team and for good reason. In their 106-93 win over the Silver Stars the home team shot 57 percent from the field and recorded 33 assists. 56 of the team's 106 points came in the paint as Candice Dupree and Kara Braxton combined for 46 points and were able to dominate down low.

It's a deadly efficient offense that the undersized Silver Stars really never had an answer for.

But the key for Phoenix getting separation in this game was on the defensive end. In the first and third quarters the Mercury were a plus nine and plus seven respectively while in the second and fourth quarters the San Antonio team out-scored Phoenix by a combined three points.

It is no coincidence that the Mercury's best 20 minutes of play also were their best defensive stretches. Phoenix held San Antonio to a combined 9 for 26 (34.6%) shooting and forced nine of the Silver Stars total 15 turnovers during the opening and third periods.

Coach Gaines was happy with his team's defensive effort but noted the let-downs as well that allowed San Antonio to close a 15 point deficit down to seven at the half.

"I would like to do it longer but I'll take that," Gaines said about his team's defensive effort.

He credited DeWanna Bonner's work on Becky Hammon for not allowing one of the league's best point guards to get into any kind of rhythm. Hammon was 2-for-7 through three quarters while the game was still undecided. Bonner finished with 4 blocked shots and 2 steals.

By playing Bonner on Hammon, Taurasi was able to be an effective help defender using her court savvy to rotate and force the Silver Stars to make the extra pass.

Penny Taylor, who finished with a 20 points, 5 rebounds and 7 assists, was also very pleased with the way the team defended the ball and created turnovers.

"That's our aggressive D. I haven't seen us play D like that before, being really up and in people and then having the rotation on the second and third passes. I think we did a great job of that," Taylor said.

There were some things that went well for the Silver Stars. They got the free throw line 31 times as opposed to only 15 for the Mercury and Edwige Lawson-Wade was aggressive attacking off the dribble, drawing help and kicking to an open teammate.

The Silver Stars, who only averaged 33.2 percent from three this season, also shot the ball extremely well. Lawson-Wade and Roneeka Hodges were 6-for-9 from long range and the team as a whole shot 62.5 percent from behind the arc.

Despite their good shooting and ability to get to the free-throw line, Phoenix was able to get separation by forcing tough shots in the half-court, multiple shot-clock violations and scoring off turnovers.

This was a very impressive performance for the Mercury.

Don't let the final score fool you; Phoenix was up by 21 points with under five minutes to go before they let off the gas and played their bench to close out the game.

In the past, the Mercury needed to shoot (and make) a lot of three's and score more in transition to generate big leads. Tonight's dominating performance showed how much better prepared for playoff basketball this year's Mercury team is.

This was a grind it out game for Phoenix who used their size and aggressiveness to control the tempo on the defensive end and their passing and variety of talent players to score virtually at will on the other end.

It will take a phenomenal performance from the Silver Stars to force a third game in this series. The Mercury are hungry to close this series out and know that as a second seed they will have to win on the road this year if they want to repeat as champions.

Their first road playoff test comes Saturday at 10:00 a.m. local time. The game will be on ESPN 2.

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Phoenix Mercury Trounce San Antonio Silver Stars, Take 1-0 Series Lead

Phoenix, AZ (Sports Network) - Candice Dupree logged a game-best 32 points to go with eight rebounds as Phoenix outlasted San Antonio, 106-93, in Game 1 of a best-of-three Western Conference semifinals.

Penny Taylor clocked in with 20 points, five boards and seven assists for the Mercury, who won by shooting better than 57 percent from the field and can advance with a win at San Antonio in Game 2 on Saturday.

Diana Taurasi posted a double-double with 14 points and 10 assists and Kara Braxton came off the bench to also score 14.

Becky Hammon scored 19 points, and both Edwige Lawson-Wade and Roneeka Hodges tallied 17 points for the Silver Stars, who hit 10-of-16 shots from long range in the setback.

Sophia Young added 16 points with nine rebounds, and Michelle Snow totaled 10 points, six rebounds and four assists in a losing cause.

The Mercury bolted out of the gate with a 19-8 burst and led 25-16 after one quarter.

Taylor hit a layup early in the second to push the Phoenix edge to 31-16, but another San Antonio surge cut its deficit to 46-39 at the break after a Jayne Appel make.

Hodges hit a trey to get the Silver Stars within 46-42 early in the third quarter, and the Mercury didn't pull away until a 10-3 run to end the period found the home team up 77-63.

The Phoenix advantage swelled to 90-69 with 6:50 to play on a DeWanna Bonner lay-in and the Mercury kept the visitors at arm's length the rest of the way.

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Matchup Spotlight: Kara Braxton Vs. Jayne Appel

This might not be the marque matchup of Taurasi versus Hammon or Taylor versus Young, but it is certainly one of the more interesting battles in this series. Especially if you like tough, physical post play - and I do.

Kara Braxton understands that one of the reasons she was brought to Phoenix was to give the team a physicality inside that hadn't been here before.

Coming from a Detroit Shock team that had taken on the "Bad Boys" persona of Bill Laimbeer and Rick Mahorn, Kara's got something that Phoenix wanted and it wasn't just her ability to put the ball in the basket.

Playoff basketball can get downright brutal and Kara is not only used to it, but thrives on it.

"We loved being physical," Braxton said about her five seasons with the Shock. "I still feed off of that. It hasn't gone anywhere, I continue to play like that ... That's what they wanted me to bring when I came in."

San Antonio coach Sandy Bordello has rookie Jayne Appel ready to go and Jayne seemed excited about the opportunity to matchup with Kara.

"It's definitely going to be a battle down low," the rookie said. "My coaches told me to be prepared, watch extra film on her to really know her tendencies because I know that's my main job in this game is coming in my focus is on her trying to match her physicality. I think she's really physical around the basket, in a good way. I think it's good to be physical."

Physicality is word that everyone I talked to about this matchup used.

The San Antonio game plan for Braxton is to bring help on the catch and not let Kara go one-on-one. They want to make it hard for her to catch the ball and then rotate quickly when she does get it. Phoenix changes their style of play with Braxton on the floor and Brondello feels Appel's size and strength, along with aggressive rotations, will be the answer.

Mercury coach Cory Gaines was asked if thought there was an advantage to having the Silver Stars reacting to his moves. Typically in basketball (and most things) when you the aggressor and the other side is responding then the advantage goes to the leader.

 

"(Coach Bordello) will change what she's doing to put Jayne in so I don't know if that's to our advantage or not to our advantage but I'm going to play Brax the same way anyway," Gaines said. "Maybe it's the Jedi mind-trick. She's trying to fool you that way, I don't know. I don't look at things that way. I always just stick to doing what we're going to do. I worry about us."

 

Additional Note

Jayne Appel was highly touted coming out of Stanford with many people thinking she would be drafted second behind Tina Charles. She fell to fifth and after missing most of training camp with injuries has only averaged about 3 points and 2 rebounds in 11 minutes per game this season.

Appel talked about that:

"It's easy for people to say that I can get frustrated coming from a team where I played the majority of the minutes and not really playing as much this year but I think it's going to benefit me a lot in the long run. It kind of reminds me of my freshman year at Stanford, I played behind two senior post players and didn't play that much and I picked up a lot of little things that over time I got to develop."

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