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By Kaylee Connors
PHOENIX – Slow starts and second-point chances have been crippling this season for the Phoenix Mercury.
They have won every game this season in which they led at halftime, and lost every game they trailed. On Wednesday, they fell behind by 10 at the half and ended up losing by five to the Los Angeles Sparks, dropping to 5-7 after a fourth consecutive loss.
“It’s really been our first quarter starts that’s been digging us in the hole, and then we get a sense of urgency when we get down double digits and we fight back, make up for it and one or two minutes,” Skylar Diggins-Smith said. “It’s like we have to start the game better.”
Following the two-point loss to the New York Liberty on Sunday, Coach Sandy Brondello said, “I don’t know why we just aren’t having the mindset and the aggressiveness right from the beginning but you know we’ve had some poor starts and we got to get better.”
Sophie Cunningham, who started for the first time this season on Wednesday and scored a season high 16 points, said the major difference between a win and a loss in a close game is simple: rebounding and turnovers.
The Mercury average 13.7 turnovers a game compared to 10.4 for their opponents. In five of their seven losses, they had more turnovers than their opponents.
They also average less offensive rebounds than their opponents at 8.5 compared to 11.3.
“I think they see that we’re ball watchers. Some of our players and perimeter players in particularly just ball watch,” Brondello said. “That’s a mindset when the ball goes out, that’s just something that we’ve learned from under 12 isn’t it? Go block someone out. We got a really bad habit at the moment and we’re getting beaten in second chance points.”
The combination of both of these statistics gives opponents an edge on second-point chances. The Mercury average 10 a game while their opponents average 16.1.
Four of their seven losses have been by six points or less which correlates directly to the second-point opportunities.
Despite the consecutive losses, Brittney Griner and Skylar Diggins-Smith continue to be bright spots for the Mercury, as Diana Taurasi the WNBA’s all-time leading scorer has had to miss the last eight games due to a sternum fracture.
“We need someone else who’s going to be that third person to step up because we’re putting a lot on BG and Sky at the moment to carry us,” Brondello said.
Griner is currently averaging 10.3 rebounds a game, the highest of her career. She is also averaging 20.1 points a game. She scored a season high 30 points in the loss on Wednesday night while also contributing 10 rebounds.
This was Griner’s eighth game scoring 30 and 10 which leads the Mercury franchise. It was also her 49th double-double of her career and her eighth of the season.
“I think it’s the best I’ve ever seen her play, quite honest, and I’ve seen BG play at a really high level,” Brondello said. “Her rebounding has gone to another level. I know that’s an area that she needed to get better at. Her ability to stretch out and shoot the perimeter shot I mean she’s knocking them down quite easily, too. We just need to give her a little bit more help.”
Diggins-Smith has stepped up this season. She is averaging 19 points a game and scored 15 on Wednesday night. She also had 10 assists for her second double-double of the season.
Diggins-Smith is the only player on the Mercury roster to have scored in double figures in every game this season.
“From a leadership position I’m just figuring out what we can do better. Obviously, me and BG play 36 minutes so we should be getting what we’re getting,” Diggins-Smith said. “It’s just trying to figure out ways to put everybody in positions to be successful. That’s just a formula we are still trying to figure out right now.”
Game two of three between the Mercury and Sparks is at 7:30 p.m. Friday at the Los Angeles Convention Center. The Mercury will look to snap their losing streak before heading back to Phoenix for the third game of the series.
Taurasi is expected to make her return for the third game which was shifted back one day to June 27 to avoid a Phoenix Suns playoff conflict.
“We’ll keep putting our pieces together, we’ll go watch film, we’ll have a good practice and we’re going to get out of this but right now you just have to fall in love with the process,” Cunningham said. “We’re going to figure it out as a team.”
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