Mercury to play Las Vegas Aces in the 1st round of playoffs following loss against Sky

·3 min read

Corrections & Clarifications: In an earlier version of this article, Phoenix Mercury player Kaela Davis was misidentified in a photo caption.

Through all the twists and turns of the season, from playing without center Brittney Griner all season to losing star guards Diana Taurasi and Skylar Diggins-Smith in the midst of a playoff push, the Phoenix Mercury edged its way into the postseason.

“They are resilient beyond belief," Mercury head coach Vanessa Nygaard said. "Every day we got hit by different stuff and different challenges and different things that happened in every possible way. Fate was just laughing at us, it felt like most of the year. To sit here on the last day of the season and be in the playoffs, it’s a great reward, but now it’s a new season."

Sunday's season finale began with the Mercury’s playoff fate decided prior to the game with the Minnesota Lynx dropping its final game against the Connecticut Sun. The Mercury (15-21) now hold the longest active postseason streak in the WNBA and will make its 10th consecutive appearance in the playoffs.

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The Mercury will open the first round at the top-seeded Las Vegas Aces on Wednesday with a 7 p.m. start time after losing 82-67 to the Chicago Sky on Sunday.

Aug 14, 2022; Phoenix, Ariz. U.S.;  Phoenix Mercury guard Jennie Simms (25) lays the ball up against the Chicago Sky during the first quarter at Footprint Center. Mandatory Credit: Michael Chow-Arizona Republic
Aug 14, 2022; Phoenix, Ariz. U.S.; Phoenix Mercury guard Jennie Simms (25) lays the ball up against the Chicago Sky during the first quarter at Footprint Center. Mandatory Credit: Michael Chow-Arizona Republic

Both teams struggled to shoot at the start of the first quarter with the Mercury only making two of its eight attempts in the first five minutes, while the Sky made two of its 11 attempts.

“That first 10 minutes, that wasn’t beautiful basketball. It was pretty ugly and if a couple of balls went in for us, I think the game is really different,” Nygaard said.

But the Sky quickly snapped into shape after an official timeout at 4:48 and went on a 10-0 run to control the game. Forward Emma Meesseman made quick work getting to the rim and scored six of the 10 points.

With eight turnovers, the Mercury had trouble finding a rhythm in the quarter to match the Sky’s growing intensity. It wasn’t until Yvonne Turner’s pullup jumper at 1:14 when the Mercury started to find a response on offense.

The starting five continued its offensive struggles in the first half with a combined 14 points, including six from Jennie Simms. Kaela Davis led the team with seven points off the bench.

Defense was stretched all over the court against the Sky’s depth. Players like Meesseman, Stevens, and Quigley caught the Mercury flatfooted in each quarter.

With a 14-point deficit coming into the third quarter, the Mercury fell deeper once guard Allie Quigley started to heat up. Quigley bounced back from only scoring three points in the first half and collected 11 points on 4-of-4 shooting with three 3-pointers within the first four minutes. Quigley finished with 14 points in under 20 minutes in the game.

Both teams rested its during the later stages of the game and allowed for players like Megan Gustafson to get more meaningful minutes. Gustafson led the bench with over 26 minutes on the floor and thrived with more post up opportunities.

As a result, Gustafson secured a double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds, while the bench combined for 37 points. Gustafson and starting guard Jennie Simms shared the scoring lead with 12 points. Simms had eight rebounds.

“It was just a fun time to get some minutes and I think that is where that consistency comes from is from a rhythm because when you get those consistent minutes, you kind of find a flow,” Gustafson said.

Overall, the Mercury couldn’t figure out the Sky’s defense and finished with 18 turnovers and shot 23.1 percent from the 3-point line.

Azurá Stevens led the Sky with 17 points, including 12 points in the second quarter, and went 7-for-12 from the floor.

With the Aces on the horizon, the Mercury will now face the team for the first time since May 21. The Mercury were 0-3 in the season series.

Reach the reporter at jenna.ortiz@arizonarepublic.com or 602-647-4122. Follow her on Twitter @jennarortiz

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This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Mercury to play Las Vegas Aces in the 1st round of playoffs following loss against Sky