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.