Record: 12-11 (2-0)
Place In Standings: Third
Points Per Game: 81.2 (73.5)
Points Against: 82.6 (61.5)
Andre 3000 calls himself "Three Stacks" by self appointment whereas Diana Taurasi doubled that off of pure talent, the grind of 291 career games, and over consistent greatness over 9,000 minutes of action. A lot of people call themselves the best as self adulation has become a favorite past time for the narcissistic world that is entertainment and athletics. Then again, some others are great because they are great.
An unassuming lay-up in the third quarter of a blowout win over the Tulsa Shock and Diana Taurasi makes history with 6,000 points.
Not just 6,000 points, but the fastest player in WNBA history to reach that goal and now just 1,288 points off of Tina Thompson, a mentor and idol for Taurasi, as the all-time leader in points scored. After the game Taurasi let out a sarcastic "YAY" for her individual accomplishment, but then revisited what really got her there, which were her teammates and her mentors.
"You don't get to 6,000 without great coaches, great teams, and great players around you," said Taurasi after the game. "You don't get there. You have to have great people around you every step of the way."
That was typical of Diana and also appropriate for her after this game in specific as she entered 14 points away from this accomplishment, but still paced herself in an effort for the team goal with 7 assists. She did not score her 14th point until midway through the third quarter as her team cruised to a win with balance on the offensive. Not the typical gunner performance that is seen when a player is on the precipice of a record.
Later this season the all-time leader in points comes to town as Taurasi is nipping at her heels, but their time together is a part of what fuels the greatness of Taurasi.
"Tina (Thompson) has been great," continued Taurasi. "I have known her since I was really young and the first thing with her was on the National Team in 2004 and we played a couple of years together in Russia. Tina and I have been through battles together, won Championships in Europe, Olympics, World Championships, and I have the utmost respect for Tina."
Now that Six Stacks is at this point, where does she go from here? Is there Seven Stacks in the near future? More...
"I'm not happy until I get to 10,000."
Let's get the grains of salt out of the way, because they exist. Like bread crumbs in an old tale that symbolized hope in a tough, nearly impossible situation, but sometimes they are just bread crumbs. The two wins although they showed strides on the end as a team, but they did it against a middle of the pack offensive team that were without their leading scorer and rebounder for six quarters.
Nearly every team wins the "coach killer game" after a coach is fired or "relieved of their duties." It is a natural reaction for the new coach to prove they are different (and belong) and for the players to show they can adapt (and win) with the new regime.
Two strong wins against the Shock are building blocks on something that is not a finished product, but the positive here is that the brick and mortar was just sitting off to the side all this time and now the team is learning how to use it.
Those are the grains of, well, whatever you want to use as the metaphor here.
Having said that, overall the team defense has improved. One of the more notable differences between the team for the first 21 games has been the teams switching. Through the first half of the season the team was consistently unable to defend all five players throughout a possession leaving one player open after switching and defending for 18-22 seconds.
Now they are moving better, tracking the shooters and cutters better, and finishing possessions with not only contesting shots, but forcing turnovers and shot-clock violations.
They held the Shock to roughly 14 points off of their normal season average with great effort. That is the difference. Their is more effort on the defensive end and as Brittney Griner told me, "we are all capable of all playing good D," and that is true for every professional. Defense is about effort, choice, and scheme. If the player has made the choice to give effort and the scheme calls for capitalizing on that, then a team can be good defensively.
Wednesday vs. Indiana Fever at 7 p.m. AZ Time
Saturday @ San Antonio Silver Stars at 5 p.m. AZ Time
It's the dog days of August, but Phoenix Suns players are still making news in their own way. Let's take a look around the globe for developments.
One giveaway to a player's high potential is props from peers. While Eric Bledsoe has some detractors and he's never shown great offensive efficiency, that hasn't stopped his fellow players from telling the world he's going to be a star.
Notice Bledsoe's already rocking Arizona by sporting a Diamondbacks jersey at a James party while he does his charity thing - Wheels For Kids.
Caron Butler gushed about Bledsoe at last month's introductory press conference, calling him a "an explosive, dynamic guard who has superstar written all over him."
"I think he's going to put the sports world on notice," Butler said. "He's a relentless worker. The second he arrived yesterday, he was in the gym. That's the attitude and approach he's had all off season and I think he's going to be great this year and years to come."
$100 million point guard Chris Paul has been touting his backup Bledsoe for years, including this comment at practice before the end of last season.
"Bled is one of the best guards in our league," Paul said after practice Sunday. "I've said it all season long. I'm enjoying playing with him right now because there's no way he can be here next year because we probably won't have enough money to pay him. He should be a starting point guard in this league next year."
Whether Bledsoe becomes a star or not, it's nice to hear NBA players think he is one already.
Goodwin won something called the MVP of the Rookie Transition Program last week. Who knows what that is. Maybe it's their version of 'Miss Congeniality'. Regardless, for an 18-year old to be named an MVP of any kind of rookie program in which he's the youngest player is a big enough deal to make a deal out of it.
Here's Archie talking about it on twitter.
I included in the pic his last two tweets, since they are relevant to recent discussion. Archie will live with Monsoon, he says, but he already has a nickname he likes better.
Yeah, that fits the latest nickname craze by combining numbers and initials, but it's not bad. He's much more the shizzle on the sizzle than a seasonal afternoon rain shower that doesn't exist during basketball season, that's for sure. No offense, Espo. But Archie this one.
Our own Goran is having fun with promo spots as his country gets set to host Eurobasket 2013. Following his twitter account is refreshing to say the least. He's posting a bunch of short vids and pics to keep us all in the loop.
On the basketball court, Goran Dragic got a bit of retribution from his fight a week ago, as Slovenia reached another prep tourney Final on a buzzer beater by Dragic for a 55-54 win over Turkey. Dragic scored 16 points in the win, including the buzzer beater, as Slovenia continued to roll in warmup games.
Our own BSotS reader, pece, recaps the game for us. Check out the link. Pece gives an awesome recount - I really hope he covers the entire Eurobasket tournament!
Dragic got into a fight and was ejected just a week earlier in another warmup game against this same Turkish squad. This time, Dragic restrained himself and led Slovenia to a tighter win while the opposite offender, Balbas, did not register in the box score. Turkey played a tougher game thanks to playing Emir Preldzic and Omer Asik, among others, who had not played a week before. Slovenia has now beaten Turkey four straight times.
Slovenia plays in today's Final for the 2013 Belgrade Trophy. Turkey will play in the third-place game.
Between the nervous excitement, fun signs in the crowd (REFS YOU NEED GLASSES in an optical chart form, awesome), and energy in the building, Russ Pennell and the Phoenix Mercury were victorious in his coaching debut. The team knocked off the the Tulsa Shock to begin what has to be a second half of penitence for the team...
"I asked them if they are all that hard," new head coach Russ Pennell after a 70-67 debut win over the Tulsa Shock. "It was fun. I really enjoyed the energy in the arena and the fans were great. I thought the ladies played extremely hard."
After three debuts in the Valley between the University of Arizona (2008), Grand Canyon University (2009), and now with the Mercury (2013) there have been a few "first games" for Pennell as a head coach here.
In terms of in-state debuts Coach Pennell is now technically 3-0, a feat that will be hard to attempt to match in the future for any coach. All three times Coach Pennell has walked into an arena in the state of Arizona with a new team he has won whether it was against the likes of Florida Atlantic, Western Washington, or now in the WNBA against the Shock. He has been received by his new players and the fans each time. In return he has rewarded them with a victory.
This atmosphere was very different as a former men's college basketball coach, but at the same time very familiar.
As a father of two young ladies Coach Pennell is used to both the athletic world and how to manage a locker room of women. The transition to the WNBA looks odd on the surface with his overall experience and resume, but it makes more sense than meets the eye.
The WNBA has rabid fans that are as loyal as they come. They are more connected with the product and the teams with the way the product is presented. The players are not sheltered and full of ego, they want to interact with the loyal fans that are the reason they have a job. In an arena that has the capacity for 18,000+ fans for a basketball game the Mercury draw roughly eight to nine thousand fans nightly, but they get as loud as any Phoenix Suns game.
There is an energy and feeling during a Mercury game that is hard to describe, but is as genuine and as warming as the college environment Coach Pennell is used to.
At this point in a season a coaching change is the universal sign for "waving the white flag." Not in this case. The Mercury brought in Coach Pennell to tap into the potential that has been unfulfilled so far this season. He has a philosophy that allows enough of a different voice to display change, but similar enough to adapt mid-season as the train is firmly on the tracks and going full speed.
"The thing I try to give them from an offensive standpoint is to play a little freer," stated Coach Pennell on his offensive strategy. "Every team has to run set plays, but you also know that the other team knows your set plays and you have to be able to variate off of that. I think that is where Candice (Dupree) is very good, her and Diana (Taurasi), are very good at playing off of each other."
In his debut the primary differences seen on the offensive end were that Taurasi was able to play off the ball more and the team utilized Dupree more to her full potential.
There are very players in the WNBA with the offensive versatility that Dupree has at the forward position with the ability to shoot, finish, rebound, defend, and make plays without the ball in her hands. She was on full display under her new coach with the most field goal attempts in 22 games and the most points (20) and offensive rebounds (5) in the same game all year. She lit up the defensive end as well with three steals and two blocks.
As much as Taurasi is the best player in the league and on the team, Dupree is a catalyst that is the key to the season for the Mercury to have a chance against the likes of the Lynx, Sparks, or even the Storm.
"One of the things we are trying to do is just up the effort on the defensive end and I thought it was very appropriate that we had to win it on the defensive end with a stop," Coach Pennell on the way the Mercury were able to win.
The Mercury did a better job of playing tougher and with more activity on the defensive end. They still have a ways to go to be even a good defensive team, there are a lot of holes still there, but there was positive displays.
This season the Mercury have been out-rebounded consistently, turned the ball over erratically, have been spotty defensively, and the only thing they have done consistent is play inconsistently. That changed in a one game snap-shot as they our-rebounded the Shock by 15, held them to 40.7% shooting, and still turned the ball over, but did a better job in the second half controlling the ball.
They overcame a dramatic free-throw difference and played another game without Brittney Griner and Penny Taylor.
All season the Mercury have weathered a storm with brief sunlight, but have not been able to find consistency. There are 12 games remaining this season with only two games against teams with a .500 record or better -- both on the road.
The team will be tested as the season continues with the Storm on their heels in the conference and a new coach acclimating to the WNBA as a league.
"Of course we are just 48 hours in, they may get tired of me next week, but right now we are in a real good place," Coach Pennell on the vibe.
Things can change for the worse, there is proof of that over the course of two seasons here in Phoenix, but this could also be the energy burst required for the Mercury to finally get things going.