The Phoenix Mercury (5-4) are above .500 for the first time in the WNBA season after defeating the Chicago Sky, 97-84, Friday night. The year that once seemed grim for the 2009 champions has suddenly become much brighter after rolling to wins in five of their last six games.
This one took some effort though. After returning from an arduous ten day road trip the Mercury started the game flat, committing turnover after turnover to dig themselves into an early 13-1 hole.
"You know it's always the hardest game coming off a road trip," Mercury star Diana Taurasi said after the game. "You come back home and think that the game is going to be easy and the crowd is going to get you through it, and the other team is going to come in here and just go through the motions. But Chicago came in and played really well and really hard."
Their shots not falling, Phoenix instead looked to the inside to give themselves a lift. Center Kara Braxton immediately responded, scoring six consecutive Mercury points to cut the deficit to seven and get the home crowd back into the game.
"I'm glad they had confidence in me today," Braxton said. "When I do get the opportunity to get the ball, and it's going good, they are going to keep feeding me and feeding me."
The Mercury momentum would be short lived, though, as Chicago continued to execute the high-pick and roll to perfection, grinding their way back into control of the game. A Sylvia Fowles layup two minutes into the second quarter stretched the Sky lead to 15 points, their largest of the half.
Discouraged by the uneven flow of their offense, Phoenix responded by pushing the tempo and luring their opponents into the break-neck pace that the U.S. Airways Center is accustomed to seeing. Aided by the game's newfound speed, the Mercury began to gradually chip away at the Chicago lead, cutting the deficit to single digits with a minute left in the half.
"We weren't shooting great at the beginning of the game," Mercury head coach Corey Gaines said. "I knew that it would all come eventually."
With the fans at their backs, the Mercury continued to mount their furious comeback, ending the half with a 7-0 flurry over the last 52 seconds. DeWanna Bonner capped off the run by stealing a Chicago inbound pass and forcing a shooting foul with one second on the clock. By the time the dust settled, the Mercury entered the locker room having cut the lead to a single point.
As the third quarter began Phoenix picked up right where they left off, storming out to a quick seven point lead via a 10-2 run in the first three minutes. Led by a high-energy attack and stifling team defense, the Mercury remained in control throughout the rest of the game.
"We dug ourself a 15 point deficit, and I knew that we would come back," Gaines said. "The energy level picked up and it was all good in the end."
Diana Taursai led the game for Phoenix, scoring 24 points on a masterful shooting night. The Mercury captain shot 6-8 from the field and a near-perfect 11-12 from the charity stripe.
Mercury center Kara Braxton dominated the paint in stretches, scoring 15 points and grabbing 5 boards in just 22 minutes.
Epiphanny Prince led the Sky, pouring in 19 points and 6 assists in the losing effort.
The Mercury next play Tuesday, July 5th, against the Los Angeles Sparks at the U.S. Airways Center in Phoenix. Tip-off is at 6 p.m.