At the end of the first half between the Phoenix Mercury and Indiana Fever on Sunday, the Phoenix defense had held Indiana to 15-38 shooting (39.5%) while connecting on 46% of their own attempts. Indiana was just plus-two in total rebounds but were up 12-4 in second chance points and 19-7 in free throw attempts which gave them held a nine-point lead at the half.
Mercury coach Corey Gaines looked at the half time box score and had a few choice words for his team about the offensive rebounding differential and the team responded. They didn't start making shots (in fact, their percentages dropped) but they did start defending better and they most certainly picked up the rebounding. The result was a grind it out win that Diana Taurasi compared to another important game between these two teams.
"It felt like Game 5 of the Finals. That's how we have to treat every game," Taurasi said.
Candice Dupree who finished with 18 boards for the game, used her nose for the ball and energy around the glass to lift her team and help grind out a 16-14 third quarter with a 6-2 edge on the offensive glass. Dupree had five in the third quarter alone which turned the tide of the game despite the miserable outside shooting from the team (5-28 from three).
Coach Gaines also went to his smaller lineup in fourth quarter and overtime with Kara Braxton watching from the bench. That freed up Dupree to attack in the paint but also put her at a significant disadvantage defending center Jessica Davenport. Davenport had 12 points in the fourth quarter but fouled out early in the overtime which was a big break for the Mercury.
Defensively, the Mercury went to the zone a lot more in the second half and held Indiana 32 points and most importantly, contested the three-point shots. Jeanette Pohlen and Tangela Smith went 7-7 in the first half but 0-2 in the second. Most importantly, Phoenix got key stops late in the close game.
While the Indiana offense isn't nearly as difficult to defend as some others in the league, it's a big improvement to make plays on the defensive end.