For all the talk about what the Phoenix Mercury miss on the offensive end without Diana Taurasi, their defense has been what has helped them gain traction in the standings.
Looking to enter the All-Star break on a three-game winning streak, the Mercury attempt to continue their roll Tuesday night when they host the struggling Indiana Fever.
Phoenix (10-8) has long been known for its scoring, and with good reason. Taurasi is the WNBA's all-time leading scorer, and All-Stars Brittney Griner and DeWanna Bonner have long been among the league's best frontcourt scorers. But with Taurasi limited to just one game this season following offseason back surgery and a lack of a consistent third scorer to help Griner and Bonner, the Mercury have compensated on the defensive end.
The Mercury are second in the league in scoring defense at 73.2 points per game allowed, just behind the Storm (73.1), and are coming off a 70-66 victory at Dallas on Saturday in which they limited the Wings to 33.3 percent shooting. Griner had 17 points and eight rebounds, and she also added three blocked shots and ranks second in the league in that category with 2.1 per game.
Phoenix's defense has often had to be that good to compensate for a sputtering offense beyond its frontcourt duo. The Mercury shot just 28.8 percent but held the Wings without a basket for a 6:12 stretch of the fourth quarter while taking the lead for good with a 9-3 burst.
"Defensively we're doing pretty good," Mercury coach Sandy Brondello told the Arizona Republic. "We've been pretty consistent at that. It's just the rebounding, and that's just focusing."
The win marked the eighth time the Mercury have held an opponent under 70 points after doing so nine times in the last two years combined.
The Fever (6-14) are mired in a season-worst five-game losing streak following a 78-70 loss at Chicago on Sunday. Erica Wheeler had 13 points and nine assists while rookie Teaira McCown contributed 11 points and a season-high 16 rebounds, but Indiana squandered a 13-point first-half lead while getting outscored 51-34 in the final two quarters.
As has been the case most of the season, it has been pockets of poor play that has plagued Pokey Chatman's team. On Sunday, it was a 3:28 span of the third quarter in which Indiana's 10-point lead evaporated due to a 15-4 spurt by the Sky.
"We can't have four or five minutes of bad defense and bad offense," guard Tiffany Mitchell told The Athletic recently. "At this point, it's either one or the other, we're either going to have to get stops ... we're not going to outscore everyone, so we're going to have to get stops the rest of the season if we're going to win games."
The Mercury have not needed to rely on defense during their five-game winning streak over the Fever, averaging 95 points while winning by 17.2 per contest. Griner has totaled 49 points in the two wins this year, including 23 in a 91-69 home victory June 28.