By Scott Mammoser
The Phoenix Mercury might be the No. 8 seed in the upcoming WNBA Playoffs, but the team isn’t too worried about it. That’s because since the league introduced the new playoff format in 2016, the Mercury is 6-0, including 4-0 on the road, in such first and second round games.
“Our track record is pretty good in single elimination games,” said center Brittney Griner, who led the WNBA in scoring at more than 20 points per game this season. “It’s sweet because we always win them, but bitter because we’re in the same situation. We need to break that one of these years, but we’re here, and we know what we need to do, go into Chicago and get a win. It reminds me of college, win, stay, lose, or go home. I want to get this win.”
The Mercury (15-19) will be at No. 5 Chicago (20-14) this Wednesday. Las Vegas won at Phoenix, 98-89 on Sunday to secure the fourth seed, while the top-ranked Mystics defeated the Sky, 100-86, to set up the matchup. The Sky won all three games it played with the Mercury this year, with the first two being single digits and a 105-78 blowout occurring on Sept. 1
“Chicago is playing really well,” Mercury coach Sandy Brondello said. “They have so many scorers, they rebound the ball well, and they’re athletic. They have one of the best point guards in the league (Courtney Vandersloot), controlling everything out there. In a one-game knockout situation, as long as we can limit what they want to do, we can make them feel uncomfortable, and anything is possible. We didn’t win at Connecticut last year either (in the regular season), and we went in there and won. We’ve been in these situations before. We know that we can do this, and anyone can beat anyone in this league.”
In 2016, the No. 8 Mercury went into Indiana and won, ending Tamika Catchings’ career, then won in New York, before being swept in a best-of-three semifinals by Minnesota. The next year, Phoenix defeated Seattle at home, then the Sun in Connecticut, before another sweep in the semifinals, this time to the Sparks. Last season, the team beat the Wings in Arizona, then won at Connecticut again, before falling to the eventual-champion Storm in five games. The fifth game loss in Seattle was the first decisive, winner-takes-all game that Diana Taurasi lost in her distinguished WNBA career.
“Diana doesn’t lose knockouts,” Brondello said. “The bigger the game, the better she is. We still have a veteran team that has been on this ride with her, as well. That’s what we’re going to have to rely on, our been there-done that mentality. Don’t be afraid of anything, and lay it all out on the court.”
Taurasi, the league’s all-time leading scorer, sat out her second-consecutive game on Sunday with a hamstring injury, and has only appeared in six all season, but Brondello is confident she will be ready for Wednesday.
“We faced so much adversity this year,” Brondello said. “We didn’t get too many W’s, but we stayed together, stayed resilient, and played together. We know what we’re capable of, but we know that we have to bring it every single night. We don’t want our season to be done, but it’s going to take a group effort from everyone, and it’s going to take their best game of the season.”
In addition, Mercury forward Camille Little, in her 13th season from North Carolina, is retiring once the playoffs conclude. She won a title with the Storm in 2010.
“I just want to win games,” Little said. “It’s not really a thing where I think about the last one, I don’t want to think like that. I just say enjoy all of it. I’m just worried about us playing well and winning games.”
If history repeats itself, Little can expect to suit up a few more times.