In the course of any WNBA season, any team will go through its fair share of ups and downs. But what the 2022 rendition of the Phoenix Mercury had to endure this season went entirely beyond the pale.
The Mercury still managed to qualify for the playoffs, but the season ended in a resounding ending to the Las Vegas Aces as the No. 1 overall playoff seed dispatched of Phoenix in a two-game opening round series.
Becky Hammon, A’ja Wilson and the Aces did not even allow the series to go back to Phoenix for a Game 3 the way the Dallas Wings-Connecticut Sun and New York Liberty-Chicago Sky series have played out.
But for the Mercury team to qualify for the postseason after everything it has been through is a masterclass of resilience.
Of course, there is the ongoing ordeal involving Brittney Griner who has been detained for many months now in a Russian prison for hashish oil. Even with Griner’s sentencing, everyone keeping close tabs on what is happening with her can tell that the trial was a farce and she is being held by the Kremlin purely for political purposes related to Russia’s war with Ukraine.
Griner’s lawyers have since filed an appeal and there are now active talks regarding the release of her as well as Paul Whelan, a United States Marine who has been in Russian custody since 2018.
A BG42 logo was displayed at all 12 WNBA arenas, the rosters for both Team Wilson and Team Stewart wore Griner’s No. 42 throughout the second half of the All-Star Game at Chicago’s Wintrust Arena and countless donations have been made this year on behalf of her shoe drive.
It has been 185 days since our friend, Brittney Griner, has been wrongfully detained in Russia. It is time for her to come home. @WhiteHouse @potus @vp , we are paying attention and we are counting on you. #WeAreBG
— Breanna Stewart (@breannastewart) August 22, 2022
In addition to the Griner saga, the 2022 season was one emotional rollercoaster for Phoenix and first-year head coach Vanessa Nygaard. There was the spat that occurred on the Mercury bench between Diana Taurasi and Skylar Diggins-Smith during a game against the Aces.
There was Tina Charles who asked for a contract divorce (and got it) prior to the All-Star break. That paved the way for Charles to join the Seattle Storm, who have advanced to a WNBA semifinal contest against Las Vegas (there was also how Sophie Cunningham dissed Charles on her way out of Phoenix).
There was Diggins-Smith quote-tweeting a video of her coach mentioning that the All-Star Game was not the All-Star Game without Taurasi and using a clown emoji. Diggins-Smith was named an All-Star while Taurasi was not.
There was a late season injury to Taurasi that sidelined her.
There was the announcement that Diggins-Smith herself would recuse herself from playing the remainder of the regular season because of a personal matter involving her.
And if that was not bad enough, in Game 1 of the Mercury’s first-round playoff series against the Aces, Shey Peddy had to be carried off the court following a non-contact injury late in the third quarter. After that injury, Diamond DeShields was on the Phoenix bench with a towel over her head and her head in her knees, visibly and emotionally wrecked from what happened with Peddy.
Seeing this photo of Diamond DeShields on the sidelines from last night broke my heart after seeing her and the Phoenix Mercury going through so much this season. 🥺💔#4thevalley #WNBATwitter #WeAreBG pic.twitter.com/NYGHddMkSN
— Aya Abdeen (she/her) Free Brittney Griner (@ayabdeen) August 18, 2022
DeShields also tweeted “calls therapist” after the Game 2 loss to Las Vegas.
For everything that the Mercury had to endure this grueling season and still make the playoffs is a feather in Nygaard’s cap. Yes, Phoenix had chemistry issues throughout the season and yes there were pervasive questions as to if Nygaard was the correct coach for the job. But what she and the Mercury did throughout what had to be an emotional several months for the team, the organization, and its passionate fanbase is something they should be proud of.
From a team standpoint, it would have been even more devastating if the Mercury had failed to make the playoffs because their first-round pick is held by the Chicago Sky. So, it would have been Chicago that would have had to look forward to staring at lottery ping pong balls instead of the Mercury. Thankfully for the X-Factor, that was not the case.
X-Factor, we gave you everything we had. Thank you for supporting us every step of the way. We love you 💜 pic.twitter.com/DzL3WBx922
— Phoenix Mercury (@PhoenixMercury) August 21, 2022
In many ways, it is probably good that this long season from a place hotter than Arizona in July has come to a conclusion for the Mercury because now the team gets some much needed time to physically and emotionally recover. There was no way basketball had to be first and foremost on the minds of the Phoenix players and now they get some time to cleanse their minds of the season and put all of their energy to helping Diggins-Smith get through whatever she is going through and monitoring the status of the Griner release talks between Washington and Moscow.
Take all the time you need to mentally rest, Phoenix Mercury. Let us hope for a 2023 season that sees Phoenix be the Phoenix we know they can be – one of the top three or four teams in the entire WNBA.
Oh…and one more thing…
Free Brittney Griner till it’s backwards 🗣 #WeAreBG pic.twitter.com/NaM1F4hKmE
— Aya Abdeen (she/her) Free Brittney Griner (@ayabdeen) August 19, 2022