WNBA Wrap: Mercury rise into the playoff picture

Published June 14, 2022, 12:00 PMPolo Bustamante

Phoenix strung together three straight wins last week to claim the eighth spot in the standings.


Team in the spotlight

Entering last week’s 3-game schedule, last year’s WNBA Finalists, the Phoenix Mercury, were 2-8 for the season. They had major problems plaguing them – they couldn’t hold on to leads or close out games in the right way. That led to a 7-game losing streak heading into last week.

Phoenix needed a statement win to shake them out of their funk. They got just that when they took down the LA Sparks to open last week’s games. The Sparks were actually in the lead but the Mercury’s floor leader, Skylar Diggins-Smith, wouldn't allow them to lose another game. She buried the Sparks in a deluge of buckets in the fourth quarter, finishing with 29 for the game.

That 13-point win against LA sparked something in Phoenix. It seems like they finally remembered how to win basketball games again. 

In their next game against the Atlanta Dream, the Mercury gave up a 14-point lead in the final six minutes of the game. Rather than complete the collapse, Diana Taurasi and Diggins-Smith came up with clutch buckets to hold off the Dream.

The Mercury completed a 3-0 sweep of their games this week with a big win over the Washington Mystics. Diggins-Smith once again played the hero for the team. She came alive in the extra period to help her team pull away from Washington for good.

That three-game run by the Mercury helped them jump up into the eighth spot in the standings. Their win against LA was even more crucial since it allowed them to leapfrog the Sparks who have a similar 5-8 record. 

With the WNBA changing their playoff format this year, only the eight best teams advance, regardless of conference. That’s why this win streak by the Mercury is so important. It puts them back into the playoff picture. If the Mercury make it back to the finals again, they can look back at this week as the turning point of their season.

Game of the week

The battle between the upstart New York Liberty and the defending champions did not disappoint. It was a back-and-forth affair between both teams that went down the wire.

Sabrina Ionescu was an absolute force for the Liberty. She finished with a triple-double, scoring 27 points, dishing out 12 assists, and hauling down 13 rebounds. She was the reason the Liberty were up by five heading into the final minutes of the game.

In the end game, Courtney Vandersloot’s experience came into play. She scored on an and-one bucket, found Emma Meesseman for a score inside, and drilled a midrange J to cut the Liberty’s lead. Down by one with less than 10 seconds left in the game, it was Vandersloot that hit the go-ahead basket. Taking advantage of the attention on Meesseman in the paint, Vandersloot drilled a wide-open three-pointer to give the Sky the lead, and the win.

Vandersloot had 20 points and 10 assists in the game. Meesseman also had 20 points and grabbed 11 rebounds.

Big-time baller

A’ja Wilson isn’t even the second-leading scorer of the Las Vegas Aces. The 2020 MVP is their third-leading scorer behind Kelsey Plum and Jackie Young. Even if her scoring has taken a slight dip this season, she showed recently that she’s still Las Vegas’ best player.

Against the Sparks, Wilson erupted for 35 points. Beyond the scoring though, it was her play on both ends of the floor that was impressive. She controlled the paint defensively, grabbing 11 rebounds and blocking four shots.

The Aces are in a class of their own this season. Plum and Young are a huge reason for that. But Wilson is the player that raises the ceiling of this team to championship levels.

Watch out for

…more dunks this season!

Awak Kuier opened the door with the first dunk of the season. Now the rest of the league can follow with their own high-flying highlights.