If Saturday’s win over the New York Liberty proved one message from the Mercury, it’s that the team will still put up a fight to make the playoffs no matter who is leading the team.
Playing without Diana Taurasi and Skylar Diggins-Smith against a hot New York Liberty team was an impressive feat. Now, more of the all-around effort from the team will be needed in the final stretch with three regular season games against two teams in the hunt for the postseason and the top team in the league.
The Mercury (14-19) will at least be in the comforts of its home arena during the final slate and will likely have Diggins-Smith back after she was ruled out for a non-COVID illness on Saturday. She was not listed in the injury report on Tuesday.
As the Mercury have seen before, the road to the playoffs is anything but easy. Only one team in the league has been ruled out from the playoffs heading into this week, while five teams are battling for two spots.
Sitting at the eighth seed with several teams just behind will not allow a margin of error. The Mercury have not missed the playoffs since 2012.
Wednesday’s game against the Minnesota Lynx at Footprint Center could be a potential spoiler for the Mercury’s playoff hopes as the Lynx hold a 3-0 series lead. Following the Liberty’s loss on Monday, the Lynx are now behind the Mercury at No. 9.
The Mercury were dealt with unfortunate news during its push for the playoffs on Monday when Diana Taurasi was ruled out for the remainder of the regular season.
“They’re not little adjustments. Dee was doing so much for us, facilitating the ball, running our offense, talking on defense,” Nygaard said.
Her presence in helping the team advance to the postseason isn’t gone either.
“Our players have had the advantage of playing with her and have learned from her, and I know they’ll carry it out. Dee’s been doing a great job on the bench and in the locker room, encouraging the players. I’m sure she’s upset not being able to play, but she’s been nothing but positive in motivating the players to do their best,” Nygaard said.
In return, the Mercury then signed guard Vonnie Turner to a hardship contract. Turner first came to the Mercury as a free agent in 2017 and played in Phoenix through the 2019 season. Turner played six games this season with the Minnesota Lynx and Atlanta Dream.
"She’s a great person, all of the players really love her and she’s a smart player. She’s fit right in. We’re not doing any sort of magic stuff that other teams aren’t doing and she’s done it all before. She’s been really great and we love her positive energy,” Nygaard said.
The game will mark an end of an era as Sylvia Fowles, a 15-year WNBA veteran center and four-time Olympic gold medalist, will play her last game at Footprint Center. Fowles just reached third all-time in blocks with 718. The spot was held by Brittney Griner.
Sunday’s win was remarkable for the Lynx in not just the ability to defeat the Dream, a team nearly in the playoffs at the seventh seed, but also how the Lynx, a team that was on the outskirts at No. 10, defeated the Dream by 10 points. The Lynx have not missed the playoffs since 2010.
Not to mention the return of starting forward Napheesa Collier from maternity leave. Collier played and started in her first game since giving birth to her daughter in May.
While Diamond DeShields took over the floor for the Mercury in the absence of Taurasi and Diggins-Smith, efforts from Shey Peddy and Jennie Simms were integral. Simms started in her first game of the season and posted eight rebounds, six points, and three assists. Peddy was reminiscent of her postseason form with 20 points and seven rebounds.
Through all the bumps the Mercury have taken this season, the team is still considered for a postseason berth. None of the efforts have been lost on the team.
“It’s a huge testament to the resiliency of our group. You really wouldn’t believe the trials of the hardships that we’ve had to overcome this season, but we still have an opportunity to clinch a playoff spot. It’s actually incredible to me and I’m happy to be a part of it. I wouldn’t want to be a part of any other group,” DeShields said.
This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Without Taurasi, Mercury hoping to avoid spoiler against Minnesota