The first game of the 2011 WNBA season was both a good measuring stick and a tough draw for the Phoenix Mercury. The defending champion Seattle Storm are a great defensive team but have also gotten better offensively with the addition of guard Katie Smith. The result was a Phoenix offensive performance that looked nothing like a typical Phoenix offensive performance.
The Storm won their season and home opener 78-71 but the final score is deceiving. Seattle was up 19 points with 4:23 to go before they sat Lauren Jackson and took their foot off the gas. Taurasi hit a couple of shots to close the gap late and actually got the score within five with 16 seconds to go and for some reason didn't foul Seattle after the in-bounds pass.
Taurasi led all scorers with 31 points on 11-20 shooting but as a team the Mercury shot just 40.3 percent. A big reason for that was the 3-12 shooting from Kara Braxton who got the second-most attempts on a team with Penny Taylor and Candice Dupree on the floor. The Mercury seemed determined to run more post offense but against Jackson's defense and perhaps a case of opening-day nerves, it didn't work well.
Spacing and ball movement with this new Mercury offense is clearly a work in progress and against the Storm defense was a difficult first test.
Defensively, Braxton and Dupree held Jackson in check (15 points) but Temeka Johnson struggled against Sue Bird and the addition of Katie Smith as a second ball handler on the floor gave Seattle more options than last year's championship team. The Storm still only shot 43.3 percent which is normally going to be enough defense to get the win if the Mercury offense can return to it's normal form.
Rebounding was also an area of focus for the Mercury and Dupree and Braxton did their part inside with nine each, but Taylor and Taurasi need more than one apiece. Seattle won that battle 38-28.
The rotations for Mercury coach Corey Gaines were interesting as well with DeWanna Bonner (5:56) getting fewer minutes than Ketia Swanier (8:00) and Marie Ferdinand-Harris (10:00) in the first half. The second half numbers were skewed by several garbage time minutes in the fourth quarter.
The Mercury have a full five days off before their second game of the season on Friday, June 10 in Los Angeles against Candace Parker and the Sparks.
For more coverage of the WNBA visit Swish Appeal.