The defending Champion Minnesota Lynx came in and played like the defending Champions, but not before Mercury gave the fans a glimpse of what they will look like next year at 50% capacity still awaiting the return of Diana Taurasi and Penny Taylor of course.
With Candice Dupree, DeWanna Bonner, and Samantha Prahalis all on the court for the first time since July 7th where they combined for 54 points in a high scoring loss that finished in double overtime there was a buzz in the arena. That buzz was saying, "Watch out Minnesota, we will be back next year."
This time the trio came out and fought in the first quarter to a respectable finish trailing only 24-22 combining for 15 points 4 assists and 4 rebounds.
"DB has done a great job this year carrying the load for the entire summer," said Dupree about the trio. "Playing with them is fun. I think we have bonded a lot this summer even though we have been losing. Being friends off the court has helped."
The second and third quarters were a different story as Erin Thorn caught fire fueling a run with her three made three's in the second quarter ballooning the Lynx lead to 22 points after three. The Minnesota Lynx (27-6) capped off the 89-66 win over the Phoenix Mercury (7-26) dropping them 2.5 games behind the Tulsa Shock -- locking up last place in the Western Conference and the second slot in Wednesday's Draft Lottery.
Bonner led the way with with 17 points and Prahalis was impressive with 14 points 8 assists in the loss. Turnovers (19) and shooting (36.2%) hurt the team again, but getting Dupree on the court was the most important statistic.
"They are a tough team," said Bonner after the game. "Maybe they will go all the way and are definitely a contender."
The team finishes off the regular season Sunday, September 24th at home against rival Seattle Storm (15-18) at noon local time on ESPN.
However, it was not all bad news for the Mercury.
Per team policy the terms of the deal cannot be disclosed, but those are the semantics that are not important. What is important is that the Mercury officially re-signed Candice Dupree, one of the best players over the past few seasons even with the likes of Taurasi and Taylor aboard.
It is a multi-year deal that will keep the presumed core of the Mercury intact for a few seasons.
Dupree has only been on the team for three years after being drafted by Chicago in 2006 where she spent her first four years in the WNBA. These last few years have not only been great for Dupree, but historic on a team level. She has produced the two highest rebounding totals in team history in 2010 and in 2011 as well as the most double-doubles in team history.
She easily could have entered free-agency to pursue a deal with another team, a contender that could add her to a rotation, but for her it was merely a formality to put her name on the dotted line. There was not a team in the WNBA that could offer her what the Mercury do in terms of opportunity and the invaluable friendships she has established here.
"There wasn't any other team in the league I wanted to go to," said Dupree before the game. "It was Phoenix or bust."
Over the past two seasons the team has locked up Taurasi, Taylor, and now Dupree while growing good young talent around them. The team next year will be the polar opposite of this season -- an embarrassment of riches.
That is why this signing, above all actually, was the most important. The rugged style Dupree plays with allows for the finesse of Taurasi, Taylor, DeWanna Bonner, and now Samantha Prahalis to shine.
"I like to think I am a pretty versatile player," stated Dupree on her value to the team. "If they need me to post up I can do that and do a good job of getting Diana and Penny open so they can get their shots off. Crashing the boards and running the floor, it is pretty easy."
It is that versatility that gives the Mercury a chance to be a great, not good, but great team in 2013. This is basically the calm before the storm, the opportunity to learn how to lose before taking the next step as a Championship contender.