Mercury not shocked by familiar foe in WNBA first round

Shock guard Riquna Williams (left) and Mercury center Brittney Griner open a WNBA first-round series Thursday at US Airways Center.

PHOENIX — For better or for worse, the Phoenix Mercury know their first-round playoff opponent better than most.

"Everybody in this league knows everybody," Mercury center Brittney Griner said. "But we know Tulsa really well."

And that relationship is only going to grow, as the Mercury begin the quest for a second consecutive WNBA championship against the Tulsa Shock Thursday at US Airways Center.

In preparation, coach Sandy Brondello kept the team on the practice court an hour longer than scheduled Tuesday. Heading into the postseason, the Mercury spent the extra time adding a few additional plays to the playbook. "Nothing real spectacular," Griner said.

That might be for the best — it was only at the end of the season that the team started putting everything together. No reason to complicate things now.

The Mercury had won three straight before deciding to rest many of their starters in the final game — against the Shock.

The ability to rest the team’s three leading scorers — Griner, Candice Dupree and Dewanna Bonner — outweighed any other consideration against a future playoff opponent that was closing out its season, too.

Because the teams know each other so well, little was gained by either side from the game. Each team is going to spruce up its playbook. And neither is going to sit its star players like both did in Sunday’s 91-87 season-ending Shock victory.

High-scoring affairs like that one, however, are games the Mercury want to avoid. Although Phoenix runs an up-tempo offense, much of the focus of practices leading up to the postseason has been on defense, specifically defending the pick-and-roll. That’s the go-to for the guard-heavy Shock squad, even without starting point guard Skylar Diggins.

WNBA playoffs arrive

"They’re a very explosive team," Brondello said. "Their guards are so aggressive. A lot of today was just focusing on our defense — how we want to defend them."

That means stopping the Shock’s intimidating backcourt duo of Odyssey Sims and Riquna Williams, the team’s two leading scorers, averaging 16.0 and 15.6 points per game, respectively.

Although one might expect experience from last season’s championship run would help, it’s not that simple. The stunning amount of turnover on the Mercury roster this offseason left the team with more new players than returning.

"I don’t think you really can," said Dupree, whose six years in Phoenix are second-most on the team. "Last year was great, but we’re trying to do something special with the group of players we have now."