The Mercury's starters scored all but two of the team's points and A'ja Wilson missed two contested shots before the buzzer as Phoenix earned a thrilling win over the Las Vegas Aces in Liz Cambage's debut for her new team.
Sometime's it's by the finest of margins that storylines are crafted. Had the Phoenix Mercury lost to the Las Vegas Aces on Friday night, the narrative surrounding the team would be a familiar one. This team can't compete at the highest level when Diana Taurasi isn't on the court. Brittney Griner and DeWanna Bonner are fantastic but the team will need more if it's to tread water without the team's best player and while trying to nurse a lot of young, inexperienced talent on the roster.
Friday's win over the Aces should quell some of those narratives for the time being, as a huge performance from the Mercury's starters spoiled Liz Cambage's debut for the Las Vegas Aces and gave the Mercury an 86-84 win.
Nearly a week after getting blown off the court by a Seattle Storm team sans Breanna Stewart and Sue Bird, the Mercury were in search of some redemption and they found it in the play of Essence Carson and Yvonne Turner. Often considered ancillary players, both provided a huge spark for the Mercury on the offensive end, with Carson scoring 20 points—the most she's scored since June 5, 2013 and including the game-deciding bucket—on 7-of-14 shooting and Yvonne Turner chipping in 18 points and 10 assists while Briann January showcased her trademark shooting by going 5-of-5 from beyond the arc on her way to 16 points.
Each Phoenix starter played a huge role in the win—Sancho Lyttle scored the only two bench points of the game—as a balanced attack from the five players saw the Mercury get their first win of the season. But it was far from easy, especially with Cambage making her presence felt with 13 points during her short time on the court.
DeWanna Bonner couldn't replicate her 31-point outburst in the season opener but her defense on A'ja Wilson was indispensable. Bonner frustrated the 2018 rookie of the year all night, forcing Wilson into a 4-for-19 night and nearly ending her streak of double-digit scoring games—Wilson had scored in double figures for every game of her career—but a couple buckets late in the fourth quarter saw her finish with 11 points.
Wilson had two chances to tie things up on the last possession but the size and contest of Brittney Griner were just enough to throw Wilson off and send the Phoenix crowd into hysterics.
Griner's presence in the post altered a lot of Aces' shots and her size going up against bigs like Cambage is going to be essential for the Mercury all season. Phoenix surely won't get games like this from Turner and Carson every time out, and once Cambage integrates properly into this team, things will be different, but those support players stepping up in big moments is a major development for Sandy Brondello's squad.
The ESPN broadcast talked about Taurasi hoping to be back by late June, a bit ahead of her doctor's recommendation of a July return, so for at least a couple weeks, this will be the Mercury's squad. What they can get out of prized rookies Sophie Cunningham, Brianna Turner and Alanna Smith will determine if some of the pressure will be taken off the starters but for now, this team is largely dependent on five to six players until Taurasi returns. And if the Mercury can beat another title hopeful like Las Vegas without their best player, questions surrounding depth can wait.
Phoenix is trying to write a new narrative this year, and with many teams trying to find an identity and plenty of improvement likely in its future, this game could be the first building block in a season-long march toward a potential title.