Phoenix Mercury prepares for Seattle Storm and faces serious questions

The Phoenix Mercury escaped the first round of the WNBA playoffs with a narrow win that raises as many questions as it answers.

The good news is that Phoenix gets to play on a different day.

The bad news is everything else.

The Mercury will travel to Seattle to take on Sue Bird and the Storm, the team that defeated Phoenix a week ago.

The Mercury should be hot to avenge this loss as it would put them in the playoff game with a single playoff game against the New York Liberty that nearly ruined the season.

Anything can happen, and it almost happened, in a winner-take-all playoff game.

With a boot on her left foot, Mercury Guardian Diana Taurasi watches during the third quarter of the WNBA first-round play-off game at Grand Canyon University in Phoenix on September 23, 2021.  The Mercury won the game 83-82 and advanced to the next round.

What does Win say about Phoenix?

The Liberty were the worst playoff team in the history of the sport due to their 12-20 record.

But they denied Brittney Griner the ball on the post and hit 46 percent of their 3-point attempts to the ground. That plus a 14-point double-double with 11 assists from Sabrina Ionescu put New York in a position to take out one of the hottest teams in the league in the second half of the season.

Liberty winger Betnijah Laney hit a 3-pointer with 2.7 seconds remaining to tie the game at 83-83. The Mercury ended up winning a free throw from Brianna Turner.

But what does it say that one of the greatest post-players in the history of the sport from a team playing in the middle only held eight shots by stacking two or three short players on top of each other and then telling them to move towards a long one Hatch? Jersey?

Does anyone think this team can really move up to Seattle on Sunday and include Jewell Loyd, who flashed them to 22 points in the first quarter on September 17th?

And can you do it without Diana Taurasi?

The White Mamba is one of the best basketball players to have ever laced a pair of sneakers, but she’s only been wearing one shoe lately. Her left foot was wrapped in a huge protective boot when she suspended her fifth game with a sprained ankle. Will she be ready this weekend?

Mercury Guard Kia Nurse drives to the basket while Liberty Guard Sami Whitcomb defends in the first quarter of the WNBA first-round play-off game at Grand Canyon University in Phoenix on September 23, 2021.

Do the Mercury see this as an opportunity to avenge Game 5’s loss to Storm in the 2018 semi-finals? Seattle has won all year round and the title last year too. Phoenix hasn’t been that close to a ring since then.

And is the close call giving ammunition for the urgent X-Factor calls to replace Sandy Brondello?

There’s a section of the fan base who thinks Brondello hasn’t reached out since winning a championship in their first season in Phoenix and Diana Taurasi, Brittney Griner and DeWanna Bonner to a record of 29-5 in the regular season and one Record 7-1 in the postseason, including a sweep in the 2014 WNBA final over Chicago.

But Brondello had to endure one injury after the other (many up to Taurasi) in recent years. It would be nice to see what she can do with a full squad.

Mercury center Brittney Griner controls the ball while Betnijah Laney (left) of Liberty and Rebecca Allen defend it during the first quarter of the WNBA first-round play-off game at Grand Canyon University in Phoenix on September 23, 2021.

Can Diggins-Smith answer further?

There is a lot of bad news to consider.

But the good news is that a win over Seattle changes everything by setting up a semifinal series against Connecticut and giving Phoenix the chance to beat the best team in the league on the way to the franchise’s first championship round game in seven years.

The other good news?

Skylar Diggins-Smith is at the top of their game.

She scored 22 points and helped limit Sabrina Ionescu to 5-of-11 shooting, including 1 of 6 from the 3-point range.

Diggins-Smith scored 10 points in the fourth quarter, five of them in the last 2 minutes.

She helped the Mercury escape with a narrow win, a win so close that it would be impossible to shift any statistic between win and loss.

It was such a close game that it raises far too many questions.

The best news is that Phoenix has at least one more game to answer them.

You can reach Moore at [email protected] or 602-444-2236. Follow him on Instagram and Twitter @SayingMoore.

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