Story and photos by Devin Millington, October 2017 Web Exclusive.
While the Phoenix Mercury were, at times, hard to hear throughout the 2017 season, they still managed to say a whole lot.
Leading up to the season, the team made some loud moves, including the addition of Danielle Robinson to bolster their point guard play. Conversely, you could hear a pin drop as they lost their home opener to the Dallas Wings. They somewhat found their roar, beating their next two opponents. Then the rollercoaster ride began, swapping wins and losses in rapid succession.
Were the Mercury’s statements heard? Yes, but the message was inconsistent. Here’s our look back at the team’s 2017 quest to be heard.
The only players coming back from last year were Brittney Griner and Diana Taurasi, although familiar faces did make a return. Leilani Mitchell, a fan favorite, solidified her standing with the X-Factor by draining threes, dishing out assists while keeping her turnovers low. Her tenacity led to her breaking into the starting lineup.
Monique “Mo” Currie was acquired early in the season. Her transition back into the Mercury squad was slow, but she’s becoming a strong 6th player late in the season. Taurasi has been instrumental in giving Currie the green light to take over games with her offensive prowess.
The WNBA’s oldest rookie, 29-year-old Vonnie Turner made a splash in the fourth game of the season, scoring 12 against a stingy Liberty defense. Throughout the season, the 5-foot-10, 131-pound guard made it known that the bigs in the lane were of little deterrence, when she drove past them, scoring with a dizzying array of near acrobatic moves.
The addition of Camille Little was one of the strongest moves the Mercury organization made. While her play has been somewhat inconsistent, she has provided vocal leadership that was needed. She instantly became a captain and strove for perfection, especially on the practice court.
Emma Cannon was a rebounding force, securing 3.4 boards in only 12 minutes of playing time, on average. She was an enforcer on the defensive end and she often battled players much taller than her, which never deterred her.
The off-season trade for Danielle Robinson appears to be a bust. DRob’s play wasn’t what fans expected. Her lackluster play resulted in other guards like Mitchell and Turner taking her starting role. Hopefully, with a year of Mercury ball under her belt, she will return next year playing like an all star.
The Mercury drafted Sophie Brunner, which was a mistake, likely because she’s from ASU. Fortunately, the error was rectified quickly as she was traded in the early season to San Antonio in the deal that brought Mo Currie back to Phoenix. Brunner didn’t last long in Texas as she was cut from the Stars roster.
Coach Sandy Brondello worked with Taurasi on how to best navigate the season while getting some rest for the aging veteran. Taurasi missed a game in Minnesota July 16 and was then scratched from the roster just hours before the Aug. 24 Sparks game in Phoenix. Some have questioned those decisions, asking “Why not rest Taurasi against teams like the Stars, Dream, Sky, or Fever?”
Diana Taurasi solidified her place as the “Greatest Of All Time” when she shattered the WNBA’s all-time scoring record. In a turn of fate, she broke the record in her home state of California against the Los Angeles Sparks June 18. It was a dismal game, however, with the only bright spot being Taurasi’s amazing feat. With the potential of Taurasi playing for the Mercury for three more years, she will certainly widen the gap, making this record a tough one to beat in the future.
The biggest cultural win for the Mercury, however, was the coming out – and wedding – of two fan favorites. Diana Taurasi and Penny Taylor, former player and the team’s current director of player development, were married the night before the season opener. The news of their wedding was met with exuberant acceptance and joy. Fans had been waiting for the day when Taurasi would come out of the closet and they got their wish and then some. Taurasi became a vocal leader in her advocacy for LGBTQ rights, saying “grow up people!“
Brittney Griner usually has a rough time against Minnesota, and July 14 was no different. Although Griner was playing well – scoring 15 points on 50 percent shooting – a couple of minutes into the fourth quarter, she landed awkwardly, injuring her left knee and right ankle. She crumbled forcefully to the floor and the shrieks of pain Griner let out were heard loud and clear. This was likely the moment that her running as this season’s MVP came to an abrupt end. In August, after missing nine games, she returned to the court to face the impact of her injuries: the Mercury went 3-6 without her, underscoring that she has become the key player on the Mercury squad.
The Mercury clinched the sixth spot in the 2017 playoffs, marking the first time in franchise history the team made five consecutive playoff berths. The Mercury finished the regular season strong, destroying the fourth seeded Connecticut Sun.
The Mercury faced the Seattle Storm in the first round of the playoffs (the first two rounds of which are single elimination) at ASU’s Wells Fargo Arena on the Tempe campus – a necessary move due to home court scheduling conflicts. The game was close until the third quarter when the Mercury took control and held on for the big win. The team then traveled to Connecticut to face the Sun and, with Taurasi’s 10-0 record for elimination games, the odds were in Mercury’s favor. The odds held and the Mercury beat the Sun and advanced to the semi-final round, facing its archrivals: The Los Angeles Sparks.
Taurasi and company were destroyed in LA in the first two games of the semis, by 13 and 14 points respectively. Taurasi was nearly silent in the first game, only scoring 6 points, but screamed her way back in the second game, scoring 21, but it wasn’t enough to overcome the defending WNBA champions.
The Mercury came home for game three and the X-Factor was loud and proud, anticipating a big win, but it wasn’t meant to be. The Sparks came out victorious in a nail-biter that sent the Mercury packing for the season.