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Effort and rebounding found in Mercury road trip

Hayden Cilley Avatar
June 13, 2023

After the two losses against the Dallas Wings last week, the Phoenix Mercury underwent some self-reflection. Two main questions were asked: Where is the effort, and where is the rebounding? Luckily, those questions were answered during the team’s three-game road trip.

Rebounding, where art thou?

Since the season opener, rebounding has been a large issue for the Mercury. The team averages 30.1 rebounds a game, ranking last in the league. The Los Angeles Sparks have the second-worst with 32.4, yet have a .500 record. 

Let’s have some fun here. To put this rebounding statistic into context, here’s an example. On Friday against the Wings, forward Satou Sabally had 16 rebounds herself, while the Mercury starting five had 20 rebounds. Even though Sabally is an incredibly talented player and a rising star, that differential is unacceptable. Sug Sutton acknowledged how the team needed to buy into rebounding consistently.

“I think we just have to buy into it,” Sutton said. “That’s been a problem the whole season since we’ve been playing is that we haven’t been rebounding well. We haven’t been locking into stopping those things. Dallas is a really good rebounding team and I think we have to take account and lock into that. I think we didn’t do well tonight with Satou, but all we can do is go back to the drawing board, continue to get better as a team and stick together.”

Effort and rebounding go hand-in-hand

A back-to-back set against the Dallas Wings highlighted a plethora of issues for the Mercury. One of the main components though was rebounding. Head Coach Vanessa Nygaard spoke on how the lack of rebounding stems from effort.

“I mean, I think it’s kind of a better effort that needs to be put into that,” Nygaard said. “I thought we played and rebounded well to start the game, rebounded well through the first half, and they just came out in the second half and they got 11 offensive boards. I thought that was really the difference. They pushed up their possessions, pushed up their shot attempts, and when the other teams get that many more shot attempts, then it gets really hard to win the game.”

Mercury forward Brianna Turner didn’t care about the stat sheet. Although Turner led the team in rebounding during Friday’s loss, it didn’t matter to her. Turner described effort being relatively simple.

“Good effort could just be as simple as boxing out each possession,” Turner said. “It could be making a good pass. It could just be remembering the plays we have. So, I mean, it could just really be the little things. I don’t think it’s like a grand scheme of we have all these issues to solve. It’s just like you’re really taking it step by step.”

Effort was seriously questioned in the team’s two losses to Dallas. There were instances of not hustling for a loose ball or a rebound going to an opposing player, among others. A key metric that’s been an eyesore is opponent second-chance points. Phoenix is dead-last in the league, giving up 17.1 second-chance points per game. The second-worst team is the Connecticut Sun with 12.2 opponent second-chance points — nearly five fewer per game. 

How detrimental are second-chance points?

Through a little bit of math and determination, the average opponent second-chance points is 10.2 per game. In other words, an average team would allow 10.2 second-chance points a game.

To put this into perspective, Phoenix lost against the Chicago Sky, Los Angeles Sparks and the Wings by six points or less. If we apply this number, instead of the 17.1 second-chance points they’re allowing, Phoenix would have three more wins. 

Did Sunday’s game show improvement?

The focus wasn’t on the team’s performance on Sunday, but rather, an unfortunate event they went through. As the Merc left Dallas for Indiana, a YouTuber named Alex Stein confronted Brittney Griner. He asked her inappropriate questions about Griner’s detainment and made other derogatory comments toward her. Nygaard opened up the pregame media availability with a statement.

“We will ensure that our players and our organization and our staff are safe,” she said. ”We will be making [travel] adjustments that maybe should have happened before, but right now we’re going to prioritize the safety of our players and we’ve seen that the organization has supported us.”

Griner received national attention, which she seems all too familiar with. Luckily for the former Baylor Bear, basketball is her escape. As a matter of fact, she set up a masterclass in the Gainbridge Fieldhouse against the 2023 first overall pick, Aliyah Boston. Griner put up a season-high 29 points, 6 rebounds, 3 rebounds, 2 blocks and 2 steals. The consistent drop-steps, turnaround jump shots, along with her physicality, proved too much for the Fever.

The Mercury endured three straight losses, but they turned it around against the Fever. While the game was closer than desired, Indiana played a great game with second-year forward NaLyssa Smith at the front. She put up 29 points, 12 rebounds and 4 assists and shot 11-of-19 from the field. 

Finally, Sunday was the day the Mercury went to Griner in the final moments of the game. She dominated in the first half with 14 points and continued with 15 points in the second. The team consistently found her on the block and got her to the foul line. They went to Griner and forward Sophie Cunningham through the final stretches of the game. Phoenix outscored Indiana 26-15 in the fourth quarter.

Mercury guard Diana Taurasi spoke after the game about Griner’s demeanor through the previous 24 hours.

“Life is going to throw a lot of things at us as a group, and her individually,” Taurasi said. “It’s how you react to things that make you who you are. We rallied around her and all we can do is really support her.”

Nygaard wasn’t particularly surprised with the performance, especially considering what the team has gone through since her arrival.

“They’re pros, and so it’s their job,” Nygaard said. “Whatever comes at you in life, you still got to go and do your job. So we kept plugging forward, we had a game today, did a great job and we came away with the W.”

The attitude of the Mercury shifted. Their poise was there, and a win against Indiana might have been the flipping of the switch. Phoenix looks for its third win of the season against the Seattle Storm on Tuesday. It’s a quick stop at home before heading on the road again to play the Washington Mystics and New York Liberty.

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