With the playoffs officially out of the question the Phoenix Mercury are simply playing for pride. Playing against the Connecticut Sun for the second time in five days on ESPN nonetheless had to heighten the level of pride they played for.
In their first encounter five days ago the Mercury parlayed a hot start with a steady four quarters to complete a solid their best road win of the year. They started with that same formula tonight hoping it would translate into the best home game of the year.
Admittedly it was a little confusing every time the public address announcer stated, "Sun ball," with Kendall Marshall, Goran Dragic, and P.J. Tucker all courtside, but I figured it all out.
The team got off to a hot start jumping out to a 10-3 run with good shooting and energy from a hot crowd. That shooting remained a factor as the team shot 51.6% from the field building a 45-43 halftime lead despite being without Diana Taurasi and Samantha Prahalis -- two starters.
All of that changed when Sun Coach Mike Thibault began pressuring the ball full court and forcing the Mercury into a lot of shortened possessions because of the pressure. It seemed to wear on the Mercury throughout the third quarter as they were outscored by 11 building the up a lead that became insurmountable.
The Mercury (7-22) lost to the Sun (22-8) by a final of 100-73 as Connecticut avenged the earlier, embarrassing loss.
"In the second half we ran out of juice," stated Coach Gaines after the game. "They changed their defense on DB. They denied her the ball and made someone else score. We couldn't score, when we can't score our defense suffers."
The Sun took the loss last week a little personal as they were a little extra physical and a little extra quicker to the loose balls. Late in the game Alexis Hornbuckle (3 assists 3 rebounds) was ejected for what appeared to be a normal foul, but ended with Mistie Mims hitting her head hard on the floor for the Flagrant and an ejection.
The team was led by DeWanna Bonner again with her 24 points and 10 rebounds, but she struggled to get easy shots with the defense focused on her. Charde Houston ended up as the teams second leading scorer with 13 points, but had six of those in the first six minutes of the game.
Earlier in the day the Mercury announced that they were keeping point guard Dymond Simon and Briana Gilbreath, but had to let go of rookie Avery Warley in the process. Warley had been a coach's favorite as a rugged rebounder, but they needed more ball-handlers. Tonight they apparently needed even more ball-handlers with Taurasi and Prahalis out relying on Hornbuckle and Bonner to carry the load as out of position guards.
With Hornbuckle potentially being fined or suspended it will be interesting to see how they manage Taurasi the rest of the way as Coach was very open about the potential to sit her.
"We are out of the playoffs mathematically. She has played a lot of games over all these years, Europe, WNBA, Olympics. She needs a rest. Now Hornbuckle may be suspended i don;t know the ruling, but I know the rule is the President has to go back and look at the call to either fine or suspend."
With their peers courtside the Mercury were run out of the gym, but played with a lot of fight. Up next is a visit from the Tulsa Shock (6-23) at 7 p.m. local time. The Mercury are 2-1 against the Shock this season and battling them for a Top 3 pick, which is another conversation all together.