Mercury miss playoffs, ending WNBA’s longest active streak

Alexa Philippou, ESPNAug 27, 2023, 09:37 PM ET

CloseCovers women’s college basketball and the WNBA
Previously covered UConn and the WNBA Connecticut Sun for the Hartford Courant
Stanford graduate and Baltimore native with further experience at the Dallas Morning News, Seattle Times and Cincinnati Enquirer

The Phoenix Mercury were eliminated from postseason contention Sunday with a 77-74 loss to the Dallas Wings, snapping what had been the league’s longest active streak of playoff appearances (10 straight seasons).

The last time the Mercury missed the playoffs was 2012, when Diana Taurasi played only eight games due to injury and Penny Taylor missed the entire year after tearing her ACL in the offseason. Brittney Griner was drafted the following spring.

The Mercury’s postseason streak was tied for the second longest in WNBA history. The Lynx made the playoffs 11 straight seasons from 2011-21.

Also on Sunday, the Seattle Storm saw their streak of consecutive playoff appearances (2016-22) broken with their loss to the Chicago Sky. The longest active streak of postseason berths now belongs to the Connecticut Sun (2017-23).

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“It was a season that was not ideal,” interim coach Nikki Blue said of what went wrong for the Mercury. “However, we still have a couple games left, so our season is not over yet. Although we might miss the playoffs this year, we still are going to focus on winning these next couple games.”

It’s been a disappointing year for the Mercury, who fired coach Vanessa Nygaard midway through her second season following a 2-10 start. Franchise stars Griner and Taurasi have appeared in only 25 game apiece, while several players have sat at least a handful of games due to injury. Perennial All-Star guard Skylar Diggins-Smith was also out the entire season while on pregnancy/maternity leave.

Griner — who missed all of last season while she was detained in Russia for 10 months — played Sunday after missing a week due to health and safety protocols. Taurasi has been out since Aug. 20 with a toe injury. And Sophie Cunningham missed the final three minutes of Sunday’s game after going down with an injury.

Phoenix narrowly made the playoffs last year at 15-21 despite a tumultuous summer involving multiple player absences, injuries and midseason departures.

Blue said that although the Mercury will miss the postseason, “our players, they continue to keep fighting, and I’m very, very, very proud of us for that.

“They show up every day and they work hard. You couldn’t tell that our record is what it is in our practices, because their morale — they’re cheerful, they’re eager to learn, they’re eager to play, they’re eager to compete.”

Added guard Moriah Jefferson, who is in her first year with Phoenix: “We’ve been through a lot this season with injuries and people going in and out and a new coaching staff. For us, we don’t like to make any excuses, especially in games like tonight. I think we should have won that. But for us, it’s just about trying to get better every single game. No matter what’s thrown at us, we just have to keep pushing for it. This year, we got a lot closer and hopefully we can keep continuing to do that.”

Blue, who was elevated to interim coach after Nygaard’s firing, said she hopes the Mercury will remove her interim tag, and noted that in spite of all the injuries, she believes the team demonstrated progress under her tenure.

“I hope that they’ve seen the transition that our team has made in the time that I’ve been head coach,” Blue said. “Once we get a full roster, I would like to see what we can do with that.”

Phoenix has six games remaining, including two at home; the Mercury are 1-15 on the road.

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