There was one thing that really stood out all season for the Phoenix Mercury and that is that they have yet to put together one winning streak all season. With a win in Seattle earlier in the week the team hosted the San Antonio Silver Stars with that -- and vengeance -- on their mind.
It was just one of those nights where everything was clicking for the home team early on. Watching the team make back-to-back-to-back threes early in the fourth was like a scene out of Space Jam where the players all drank from Michael's (Jordan) "Secret Stuff" and gained the energy and confidence with how good they were playing.
Or maybe it was the memories of the embarrassment that was a 42 point loss on Sunday, August 19th here in Phoenix.
The San Antonio Silver Stars came in with the third best record in the West and probably expected a cake-walk against the Mercury as they are still chasing the Lynx and Sparks out West in playoff seeding while the Mercury were circling the drain not but three days ago.
Instead the Mercury came out on all cylinders in the first quarter connecting on five threes including a series of back-to-back-to-back deep balls immediately followed by a DeWanna Bonner three-point play. The offense was clicking with great balance early as six players scored from the field, despite all that they trailed by three after one.
All season the team has been plagued by one bad quarter that doomed them to another inevitable loss. The second quarter was the exact opposite as Bonner's 10 points and Briana Gilbreath's 8 points combined to outscore the Silver Stars as a team. The Mercury hit cruise control.
It was 2011 all over again with this cast rallying around Diana Taurasi and enjoying the fruits of a defense that was pulled magnetically to the All-Star giving them scoring opportunities.
"Diana really causes a lot of people to shift towards her," stated Coach Gaines. "It makes the offense work just that much better, it is just space. You can't just stay with the players you have to stay on Diana."
Late in the game it got a little more interesting as the shots stopped falling and the game was cut to as little as two points with :37 seconds to go.
Krystal Thomas's (8 points 5 rebounds) clutch buckets off the pick-and-roll and Diana Taurasi's (25 points 4 assists) free-throws down the stretch gave the team the lift they needed. Despite the late game push the Mercury (6-19) bested the Silver Stars (17-9) by a score of 94-90 for their second win in a row.
That is two wins a-in a row and to make it even sweeter, that is two wins in a row against the fourth and third best teams in the West respectively.
The games seem to have a better rhythm now that the team is getting healthy bodies on the floor and discovering some undervalued young talents like Gilbreath and Lynetta Kizer to fill the void, essentially giving them a team tryout on the fly. Gilbreath has really taken advantage of this opportunity averaging 6.5 PPG with really solid defense to compliment the offensive prowess of the team.
Bringing back Taurasi has been a major punch of energy for the entire team. Since her return the team is averaging 80.3 PPG an improvement of 6.9 PPG. The schedule does not get easier, but as of tonight the Mercury are five games behind the Seattle Storm for the final playoff spot out West. First up is a three game east coast swing in New York (September 5th), Connecticut (September 7th), and Indiana (September 9th) before coming home to face Connecticut (September 12th) again. All four games are against teams that have beaten the Mercury this season and are in the playoff hunt out East.
Getting a few of those games is important for playoff odds as the regular season finale is a home game against those same Storm. It just got interesting.