Diana Taurasi scores 31 points, but Mercury lose defensive struggle in loss to Dallas Wings

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So close yet not quite there.

Through the first five games of the season, the Phoenix Mercury are still trying to find its team chemistry and how to perfectly slot in new additions Diamond DeShields and Tina Charles.

Even though DeShields had another impressive game with the Mercury with a season-high 22 points, it was overshadowed by the defense’s inability to stop the Dallas Wings. The Wings scored 33 points from the 3-point line alone in Thursday’s 94-84 loss at Footprint Center.

Defensively, the Mercury hurt without starting guard Skylar Diggins-Smith, who was ruled out with a non-COVID illness. The Wings shot 47.2 percent in the game and gave way to Arike Ogunbowale’s 37 points. DeShields started in her second game while Shey Peddy was in the starting five.

More: Phoenix Mercury's Diana Taurasi lambasts WNBA travel conditions: 'We're just women'

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“I’m just trying to fill the gap. Sky’s not here and that’s a big gap for our offense. Just trying to show up and be more aggressive knowing that we weren’t going to have her on both sides of the ball. But also just trying to get myself going in general. I haven’t really had a game where I felt that good in a really long time. It was a relief for me, despite the loss to feel myself, get to the rim and absorb contact like that. That’s something I haven’t done in a while,” DeShields said.

Phoenix Mercury guard Diana Taurasi (3) chews her nails as she listens to Phoenix Mercury head coach Vanessa Nygaard's instructions during a timeout during the first half against the Dallas Wings at the Footprint Center on Thursday, May 19, 2022, in Phoenix.
Phoenix Mercury guard Diana Taurasi (3) chews her nails as she listens to Phoenix Mercury head coach Vanessa Nygaard's instructions during a timeout during the first half against the Dallas Wings at the Footprint Center on Thursday, May 19, 2022, in Phoenix.

Diggins-Smith is one of the best on-ball defenders on the team and is the team’s facilitator, but her status for Saturday’s game at Las Vegas is still up in the air. Diana Taurasi took over the reins as the facilitator and put on her best performance of the young season with 31 points and five 3-pointers. Taurasi kept the Mercury in the game in the fourth quarter when she posted 14 points, but the Mercury went cold after Charles’ putback layup at 2:08.

“At this point, we’re just really growing as a team. Sometimes it might feel like we’re a long ways away and there are other times where we feel like we’re very close,” Taurasi said. “Diamond and I were just talking about it in the locker room, both our teams made the Finals last year, but there were times where it wasn’t pretty. These are the times where you bond and stay together through these tough times. Dallas played really well tonight, they’re a good team. Tonight we grew a little bit and it’s unfortunate we didn’t get the win.”

The Mercury actually played a clean game with four turnovers, but still were caught in a physical, chippy game with the Wings. Wings forward Marina Mabrey was involved in two calls against the Mercury, including a flagrant 1 foul from DeShields at 8:27 in the second quarter and a technical foul against Taurasi at 5:54 in the same quarter.

Meanwhile, the Mercury had defensive breakdowns against an explosive offense. The Mercury struggled at times to make key shots and key stops at the same time and never led by more than two points . The Wings were ahead by 11 at one point in the game.

Whenever it looked like the Mercury would be poised for a run with an exciting play, the Wings would counter with a 3. Overall, the Mercury shot 39.7 percent.

“We just kept saying, we just got to get a stop. We just needed two stops in a row and they just kept hitting tough shots as we were trying to get these two stops. A lot of times you need to string three stops in a row, that’s when you’re really playing good defense. But we just couldn’t string them together today,” head coach Vanessa Nygaard said.

The Mercury certainly saw production from its starters with Charles adding in 17 points and 11 rebounds, along with Peddy scoring 10 points with five assists. But the bench didn’t have the spark in games past as Sophie Cunningham went scoreless with only one 3-point attempt. Forward Kristine Anigwe’s two points off free throws were the only bench points.

Following up from Thursday, the Mercury will be on the road for four games, including another stint against the Las Vegas Aces on Saturday. Following that game is matchups in Los Angeles, Atlanta, and Chicago.

“We just want to continue to build. We’ve had some moments where we’ve felt pretty close to be where we want to be and we have some moments where we realize what we still have to work on. The challenges we’ll get on the road will be a good test for us,” DeShields said.

Taurasi lambasts WNBA travel conditions

Taurasi lambasted travel conditions in the WNBA after Thursday's loss to Dallas, calling out the "big pockets" that can change the situation.

"We have players out, staff, trainers, coaches, you know, it's the situation that we are in," Taurasi said in a video captured by 12 Sports' Cameron Cox. "We find ourselves always in these conditions that are tough. We are in these airports that obviously in the summer are crowded, people go on vacation. …We go to Vegas tomorrow, there are thousands of people in the casino. You just have to be as safe as possible with the conditions the way they are.

"It's unfortunate that we have to travel this way because it really does take a toll on you physically, and now your health is at risk for you and your family. It's a shame that we are still talking about this 25 years later when there's big pockets out there that could change this thing, but you know, we're just women."

Up next

The Mercury will face the Aces for the third time this month in Saturday's noon game at Las Vegas. The Aces took the series in Tuesday's 86-74 win and will play in the final game of the series.

The Aces lead the league with a 5-1 record, but stumbled a little in Thursday's game against the Minnesota Lynx (1-5) with a six-point win. The Aces are 3-0 at home with one of the wins coming against the Mercury

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: Taurasi scores 31 points as Mercury lose to Wings