The Phoenix That Has Risen From the Ashes: More on the Mercury’s Playoff Run

By: Crina Mustafa
Posted: September 4, 2021

Going into the Olympic break, the Phoenix Mercury were one of the teams with the biggest questions surrounding a playoff run. Like some other teams, they had a bit of a rocky finish to the first half of the season. After a successful trip to Tokyo for most of their Olympians, the Mercury never looked back. Currently, they are on a seven-game winning streak. They were able to clinch a playoff spot, securing their playoff run goal. One can argue that it hasn’t been the toughest schedule out there, but they are getting the job done. There are certain parts of the equation for success that they have been getting done. 

Brittney Griner

Griner has a case for MVP this year, and although she might not get it, there are so many things that she has done to contribute to the success of this Mercury team. In the first game back after the break, Griner put up 7-14 in the paint. Her footwork and size often let her take advantage of her matchup, even if she’s being defended to the best of the opponent’s ability.

A healthy Brittney Griner is a lot of trouble for other teams.

Skylar Diggins-Smith 

SDS has now proven to be a solid guard for the Mercury. She’s averaged 24.8 PPG in her last four games with the Mercury, but what stands out to me in addition to scoring has been her passing.

Diggins-Smith has become very good at feeling out where her teammates are on the floor in order to make extra passes when she’s in trouble. This is a remarkable skill that places her at 7th in the league for assists averaged right now. Skylar’s consistency throughout the month of August has been one of the main reasons for the Mercury’s winning record. 

Defense

Yes, the Mercury have an impeccable 6’9 defender in Brittney Griner (the team is literally leading the league in blocks thanks to her), but their defense is a team effort. 

Natasha Cloud brings the ball down the court and every Mercury player is on their person. They fight through some screens on Taurasi and Vaughn, which ends up with the ball back in Cloud’s hands. When she misses the three, the Mystics are immediately suffocated in the paint for a possible rebound and layup. This system of forcing shots on the perimeter and cleaning up in the paint can make for some difficult offense for opponents. One thing I’ll point out is that the Mercury could clean up a bit on defensive rebounding because they give up second-chance opportunities on a lot of possessions. 

Working Together

One of the biggest keys to the Mercury’s success right now has been the fact that they’re getting contributions from a lot of players. Kia Nurse is one of the names that we haven’t talked about yet. She had a solid game against the Chicago Sky, putting up 21 points on 66.7% three-point shooting. When Nurse is able to play her role and make an impact on the court, players like SDS are able to look to other players to help with the scoring load. 

Obviously, there’s some nuance with these seven games. Depth, consistency, and matchups are all things that should be kept on the radar. If you want to hear some more perspective on this team and expectations for them, skip forward to 1:16:35 on this wonderful podcast from Premium Hoops.

The rest of their schedule is fairly split between some easy teams and contenders. This might be good conditioning for them to get into shape for the playoffs. I’d insert another play on words, but the title of this piece should be enough. The Phoenix Mercury are trying to get back to their championship days, but it’s never easy. 

photo via Twitter/WNBA

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