The Chicago Sky defeated the injury-depleted Phoenix Mercury 86-55 Sunday evening at US Airways Center in Phoenix, Ariz.
Chicago (13-18) preserved their chance to obtain their first playoff berth in franchise history with the win, staying a game behind New York for the fourth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. New York currently owns the tiebreaker, sporting a better conference record (the Liberty and Sky split their season series), so Chicago will need considerable assistance with both teams having only three games left in their regular season schedule.
Shay Murphy delivered that message to Phoenix (7-23) metaphorically, scoring a career-high 22 points off the bench to lead Chicago. The sixth-year guard from Southern California scored 20 in the first half, but tapered off in the second after defenders locked in her position.
Murphy had plenty of help to absorb her late difficulties, including 15 points from Epiphanny Prince and 14 points from Courtney Vandersloot.
The Sky capitalized on a Mercury team playing without any of their starters. They took a 55-26 lead at halftime, earning 21 points off 13 Phoenix turnovers in the first 20 minutes. Chicago’s dominance was so prevalent that a second half cool-down did not stop them from recording their largest margin of victory in franchise history, besting their previous high of 27 set two years ago against San Antonio.
Charde Houston led the limping Mercury with 15 points, and Alexis Hornbuckle added 10.
The Mercury have been unable to quell accusations of tanking games to increase their lottery odds for the 2013 draft, a class where the first three picks (Elena Delle Donne, Skylar Diggins, Brittney Griner) are expected to immediately benefit whatever team selects them.
Complaints grew louder when DeWanna Bonner was removed from the lineup due to a sore back, and even before then, fans have charged the Mercury with not trying to win their basketball games. Phoenix still has not made an official statement on the status of Diana Taurasi despite ESPN announcing the team had shut her down for the year in a televised game last week.
Observers have been skeptical about the motive, especially when Taurasi played at full capacity during the Olympic Games in London.
Chicago finishes their Western Conference road trip on Tuesday, when they take on Seattle. Like Phoenix, Seattle has been marred by recent injuries, but they’re still seeking chemistry as they prepare to face Minnesota in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs.
Click the video link to watch an interview documenting the rise of Murphy and Prince since the two joined Chicago.