Professional Basketball

Mercury, Sparks Advance to Round 2

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The Phoenix Mercury and Los Angeles Sparks advanced to the second round of the 2018 WNBA playoffs following their respective wins against the Dallas Wings and Minnesota Lynx on Tuesday night.

Here is a recap of the night’s action:

Phoenix Mercury 101, Dallas Wings 83

The eighth seeded Dallas Wings kept things close in the first half, coming to within one point before Phoenix guard Diana Taurasi hit a three pointer to make it a 53-49 game at halftime. However, the third quarter was the difference maker for the fifth seeded Mercury, who hosted the game at Arizona State University’s Wells Fargo Arena because of a scheduling conflict with their home venue at Talking Stick Resort Arena. The Mercury hit six three-pointers in the third quarter including a long banked in trey by forward DeWanna Bonner just prior to the shot clock expiring. The Mercury went on an 11-0 run in the third quarter, which brought them to a 79-59 lead with 1:54 remaining in the quarter. Dallas cut the Mercury deficit down to as low as 15 in the fourth quarter, but could not close the gap sufficient enough with time remaining.

“We were very satisfied with the win tonight. It was a close game in that first half. We had really great energy coming out of the locker room and we got the separation that we needed,” said Mercury head coach Sandy Brondello. “Defensively, [Skylar] Diggins and [Liz] Cambage were hurting us a little bit at the start, but we just picked up the aggressiveness on the defensive end and we hit shots. Really that was the big difference and we’re excited to be moving on.”

Bonner led all scorers with 29 points and 11 rebounds, while Taurasi added 26 points and 12 assists in the effort. Center Brittney Griner pitched in for 17 points and five rebounds. The Mercury held a 19-5 regular season record when all three of those players scored more than 12 points each in the same game. Forward Stephanie Talbot added 11 points and 11 rebounds for the Mercury.

“I think at halftime, when you can make in game adjustments like that and really focus on the things we needed to clean up to get some separation, I think it shows the maturity and experience of this team,” said Taurasi. “These games can sometimes get a bit overwhelming. Things can go a bit fast and you don’t know the things you need to get done. I think at halftime today we knew the things on the defensive end that we really needed to clean up, and we came out in the third quarter and did that. The offense usually takes care of itself.”

The Wings were led by 23 points and seven assists from guard Skylar Diggins-Smith, along with 22 points, 12 rebounds and six assists from center Liz Cambage. No other Wings player scored in double-digits.

“I think our team really battled. Phoenix played out of their minds and had some great shooting from their big three and they really carried them throughout the game. Our players took a hit, kept going, kept pushing, and we’re really proud of the future of the Dallas Wings,” said Wings head coach Taj McWilliams-Franklin.

McWilliams-Franklin, the interim coach, knew that she needed to maintain consistency in a tumultuous season in order to just get through it while still battling to advance as far as possible in the playoffs.

“Challenging, emotional. I believe that you can’t have a happy ending every time unless you go through some things. You have to have a test for your testimony to work. We’ve gone through a lot of things and I think it makes our players stronger,” she said. “I was just talking to our leader in the hallway and she is mad more than sad, because she knows we have the potential and we’ve gone through all this stuff for a reason. So even through all the ups and downs of the season we still come out positive about our future and the future of the Wings.”

The Phoenix Mercury will travel to Mohegan Sun Arena to battle the Connecticut Sun for a 7:30 p.m. CT Second Round game, while the now eliminated Dallas Wings determines whether McWilliams-Franklin sticks around as head coach in the long-term or whether the team moves in a different direction.

Los Angeles Sparks 75, Minnesota Lynx 68

Like the previous series between these two teams in the last few years, the Los Angeles Sparks and Minnesota Lynx contest came down to the wire, this time with the Sparks coming out on top. For the first time since 2004, the Lynx have been eliminated from the playoffs in the first round after dominating the post-season for the past seven seasons. It was the fourth straight season in which these two teams met in an elimination playoff game.

Guard Chelsea Gray scored 26 points, forward Nneka Ogwumike netted 19 and guard Riquna Williams added 17 for the Sparks while center Sylvia Fowles scored 18 points and grabbed 12 rebounds for her 21st playoff double-double. Forwards Maya Moore pitched in for 14 and Temi Fagbenle added 15 for the Lynx.

The Lynx ended the first quarter with a 16-15 lead, which they pushed to 11 points midway through the second quarter. Los Angeles chipped away at the deficit and took a 40-37 lead at halftime. Neither team could get momentum in the third quarter as the Sparks Williams hit a layup 45 seconds into the frame but neither team scored for nearly the next three minutes.

Los Angeles got the perimeter shooting going in the third quarter as Williams and Gray combined for four three-pointers in the quarter and the Sparks led 58-52 going into the fourth quarter. The Sparks could never get a comfortable cushion on the Lynx, but Minnesota could not overcome the gap.

After Lynx forward Maya Moore missed two free throws with 1:56 remaining, which could have cut the Lynx deficit to one, Gray hit a long jumper on the Sparks next possession to extend the

lead to five, 70-65. The Lynx turned the ball over on the next possession and put Ogwumike on the line, who hit two free throws.

Fagbenle hit a three-pointer to pull the Lynx deficit to four with 52.4 seconds remaining. Moore missed a contested three-point shot and Ogwumike sealed the deal with more free throws. The final shot of the game, a seven-foot jumper, was taken by Lynx guard Lindsay Whalen just before the game clock expired. Though Whalen missed the shot, it was the last shot of her stellar WNBA career as the four-time champion heads to retirement and the beginning of a coaching career with the University of Minnesota.

Whalen finished her final game with nine points, five rebounds and five assists. She extends her numbers as the all-time playoff leader in assists (340), playoff games played (82) and playoff minutes played (2,393).

The Los Angeles Sparks will now travel to the third seeded Washington Mystics for a 5:30 p.m. CT Second Round game on Thursday.

NOTE: Post-game quotes were not available when this story went to press.

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1 Comment

  1. Sienna

    August 24, 2018 at 8:30 pm

    Thanks Kate!:)glad you like it!

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