Though taking part in with nervousness about confinement Brittney Grinerbreak up with Tina Charles and no Diana Taurasi or Skylar Diggins-Smith within the final week of the common season, Phoenix Mercury endured to succeed in the WNBA knockouts.
Mercury earned their spot even earlier than the common season finale in opposition to Chicago on Sunday. With Minnesota’s defeat at Connecticut, the Lynx had been eradicated, after which New York beat Atlanta, eliminating Dream.
Consequently, the ultimate two playoffs go to Mercury and Liberty on Sunday. They be a part of Las Vegas, Chicago, Connecticut, Seattle, Washington and Dallas. The WNBA will return to the sequence format within the post-season this 12 months after the primary and second spherical knockouts over the previous six years.
Phoenix, based in 1997, was one of many authentic WNBA franchises, and Mercury has received three WNBA titles. That is their seventeenth playoff look. However this season is the franchise’s greatest problem to this point.
Coach Sandy Brondello was fired after eight seasons, regardless of his journey to the WNBA Finals final 12 months, and was changed by Vanessa Nygaard, who has by no means been a head coach of the WNBA earlier than. Griner, the 2013 No. 1 draft decide and an enormous a part of the 2014 Mercury champion group, has been in jail in Russia for drug offenses since mid-February and was lately sentenced to 9 years in jail.
Mercury spoke all through the season about how onerous that state of affairs had affected them. They needed to play in Connecticut on August 4 after watching Griner sentencing earlier that day. After that recreation, Diggins-Smith was clearly irritated when talking to the media. She didn’t play in Phoenix’s subsequent recreation, August 6, as a result of the sickness was listed as a non-COVID-related sickness, after which missed the ultimate three video games of the season as a result of private causes.
Diggins-Smith’s relationship with Nygaard appeared strained all through the season, and at this level the previous Notre Dame star’s future with Mercury appears unsure. She has yet another 12 months left on her present contract with the group.
Taurasi final competed on 2 August however has been sidelined since then as a result of a quadriplegia, and her knockout qualification has but to be formally introduced.
Mercury additionally parted methods with one in every of their free agent offers of the season, agreeing to a contractual divorce (much like an NBA buyout) with Charles on the finish of June. Charles was sad along with her function in Phoenix and left to hitch rival Seattle, additionally within the knockout levels.
However even with accidents and absences, Mercury was in a position to keep away from lacking the playoffs for the primary time since 2012. Sophie Cunningham has been a contender for probably the most improved participant within the league this season, and one in every of Mercury’s different free brokers, Diamond DeShieldshas been a robust contributor.