Hours after announcing the team had parted ways with 2012 WNBA MVP Tina Charles, and already sporting a three-game losing streak, the Phoenix Mercury entered Saturday's game against the Dallas Wings in desperate need of a win, from both basketball and morale standpoints.
Down to only eight players, the Mercury did just that, erasing a 12-point deficit to win at Dallas 83-72.
Coach Vanessa Nygaard said before the game that the team had one of its most focused shootarounds of the season, something she said was "carried throughout" Saturday's game.
"That focus was carried in our pregame meeting, into each of our timeouts, into our halftime," Nygaard said. "Their lock-in was extremely high tonight, and hopefully to have that carry for us. But it's the tip of the iceberg for what our potential is as a group.
"People might count us out, but I don't know. Reports of our death have been greatly exaggerated."
Phoenix improved to 7-12 with the win, though it remains in 10th place in the standings after Los Angeles' win over Seattle. The top eight teams in the WNBA earn a spot in the postseason.
Charles, who agreed to a contract buyout with the team after signing there as a free agent during the offseason, was the Mercury's second-leading scorer (17.3 PPG) and rebounder (7.3 RPG) prior to her departure.
Spearheading Phoenix's effort Saturday was a 26-point outing from Skylar Diggins-Smith. Diana Taurasi chipped in 18, while Sophie Cunningham, who slid into the starting five with Charles gone, added 14.
Coming off the bench, Diamond DeShields helped compensate for Charles' absence on the glass with 10 rebounds to go along with 16 points. It was the first time she recorded double-figure rebounds since Aug. 3, 2019, when she played for Chicago.
The Mercury have had to unexpectedly operate all season without perennial WNBA All-Star Brittney Griner, who the State Department says has been wrongfully detained in Russia for over 125 days.
"I think what you saw is a bunch of pros show up and do their jobs," Nygaard said. "And so it was really, really a great thing. And also they showed the potential of what we have as a group. Eight people to do that and to fight like that, it was great to see and a little relief for some of the adversity we've been going through."
Phoenix entered the game with one of the worst defensive ratings in the league but managed to hold Dallas to 11 fourth-quarter points to ensure the victory.
"I thought our defensive rotations and intensity was extremely strong throughout the game, but especially in the second half," Nygaard said.
Players declined to answer basketball questions after the game. Instead, Brianna Turner read a statement condemning the Supreme Court's decision to overrule Roe v. Wade on Friday. But they took to Twitter to express their glee over the win.
Phoenix has a relatively easy schedule coming up, with just one game against a team .500 or better heading into the All-Star break. The Mercury have a two-game homestand coming up in which they host the last-place Indiana Fever.