To find out what to expect from the Phoenix Mercury in this playoff series against the Storm, we went straight to the source. Ben York, who covers the team for PhoenixMercury.com in addition to writing for SlamOnline.com about the WNBA as a whole, knows the Merc better than anyone. York answered five questions about this series. Be sure to check out PhoenixMercury.com for my answers to Ben’s questions about the Storm.
StormTracker: To win this series, Phoenix needs to …
York: As any WNBA fan knows, winning in Seattle is a daunting task … especially in the playoffs.
So, if the Mercury wants to win this series, they’ll need to do a couple of things. First, they need to protect the rock. This team is at its best when they take care of the ball and limit turnovers to 12 or less per game. With the high-octane offense the Mercury runs, turning the ball over prevents Phoenix from getting into a solid rhythm on both ends of the floor.
They’ll also need to rebound the ball well. I assume the Storm will want to keep the pace of play more slow and methodical rather than try and run with the Mercury. If Phoenix wants to force an up-tempo game on Seattle, rebounding the ball at an effective rate is absolutely essential.
Without rebounds, they can’t run. If they can’t run, the pace of play slows. Slower pace means the Storm is in control. And as we’ve seen three of four times this season, when the Storm is in control it translates into Mercury losses.
What don’t we know about the Mercury because we don’t watch them every day?
I still don’t think people around the league realize how good DeWanna Bonner is.
In Phoenix, she often gets overshadowed because of the superstars she plays with. Yet, there probably isn’t another player in the league of her size with her unique skill set.
This year, she has also developed an increased confidence in her outside shooting game, which has stretched the floor out quite a bit for the rest of the team. Perhaps more than anything, she creates difficult mismatches for the defense and her length makes her incredibly difficult to guard.
What Storm player gives Phoenix the most concern?
If I’m honest, I don’t think there is one player that concerns the Mercury more than another; the entire Storm team is a concern. Last week was the perfect example. In the 70-85 loss in Seattle, the Mercury held Lauren Jackson to just four points but it didn’t matter; Katie Smith poured in 26 huge points to pace the Storm.
I suppose if I had to pick one player, it would be Sue Bird (who received my vote for MVP). The way she gets everyone involved offensively is a thing of beauty. If the Mercury wants to steal a win in Seattle, it will be imperative that they force Bird into making tough decisions and try to limit her playmaking ability.
However, that is much easier said than done.
What can we expect from Penny Taylor in this series after the time she’s missed?
Penny Taylor had one of her best all-around seasons in 2011. She came just short of being the first player in WNBA history to average 15 points, five assists, and five rebounds for an entire season (Taylor finished the season averaging 16.7 points, 4.9 rebounds, and 4.7 assists a night).
With the amount of rest she’s had over the past two weeks, I think it alleviated much of the nagging pain and discomfort that comes with a back injury. Against Seattle this year, Taylor has only averaged about seven shot attempts each night. I’d be surprised if Taylor shot less than 12 times each game in the upcoming series against the Storm. Between her, Taurasi, and Candice Dupree they should combine for close to 30 shots per game.
What Mercury player is an x-factor?
Has to be Candice Dupree. We hear a lot about the importance of Diana Taurasi and Penny Taylor but there have been several times this season when Dupree has carried the team – most recently versus the Los Angeles Sparks, where she had 22 points and 19 rebounds.
When Dupree scores effectively in the paint, it opens things up for Taylor, Taurasi, Bonner and the rest of the squad along the perimeter. It also forces the defense to double-team and/or collapse on Dupree at key times. The reason this is important is because it takes so much of the focus off Taurasi and Taylor that they can concentrate more on making plays (in a general aspect) than simply putting points on the board.
When the Mercury has multiple players who score in double-digits, this team is incredibly tough to beat.