Sandy Brondello and Diana Taurasi on 89-87 loss Saturday
Little separated the Phoenix Mercury from defending WNBA champion Los Angeles on Saturday night in another nail-biting addition to arguably the league’s best rivalry.
The Sparks (5-3) won 89-87 before 10,223 at Talking Stick Resort Arena in a game neither team led by double digits.
The Mercury (5-4) trailed by three points with 15.8 seconds left when Alana Beard, who at age 33 leads the WNBA in steals, picked off a pass intended for Diana Taurasi, who turns 35 Sunday and is the WNBA career 3-point leader. It was Beard’s 601st career steal.
Taurasi was forced to foul, Beard hit one of two free throws for a four-point LA lead, and the Sparks held on despite a 3-pointer by Taurasi with 5.1 seconds left. Taurasi also took the final shot but was short from just inside half court.
“We drew up a play that we ran a lot and actually got some good stuff off it,” Taurasi said. “(Beard) made a good defensive play. That’s what she’s known for. It was literally a ball I was going to catch, and she just got right in front of me and got it. She just made a really good play.”
Taurasi had a game-high 27 points for Phoenix and is now 29 away from breaking the WNBA career scoring record. The Mercury’s next game is at home against Chicago (2-7) on Friday. Brittney Griner added 21 points and had nine rebounds.
Chelsea Gray led for the Sparks with 24, and the other four starters also scored in double figures. Mercury coach Sandy Brondello said Gray was the difference maker in a coin-flip game.
“She hurt us going downhill,” Brondello said. “We wanted to try and get the ball out of her hands, but she did a real good job of getting downhill drives and taking high percentage shots and making them.
“Our goal was to give them outside shots. They made eight (3-pointers), but if we had stopped her, it doesn’t matter if they hit eight 3s. We’ll do better next game, and this is a very good team. They’re the champions. But we know we’re in a good spot, and we had every opportunity to win that game.”
With LA leading 71-76, Griner and Nneka Ogwumike exchanged baskets, then Taurasi hit a 3-pointer. Essence Carson got loose for a layup for the Sparks. Griner made a pair of free throws, cutting the LA lead to 80-78 with less than 3:30 remaining.
After a Sparks offensive foul, Camille Little missed and Gray hit a 12-footer in the lane for LA. Taurasi answered to cut the LA lead to 82-80.
Coming out of a timeout at 2:19, Ogwumike hit two free throws, and then Griner made a four-foot shot. Gray missed on a drive, Leilani Mitchell missed a jumper for the Mercury, who retained possession with 1:20 left.
Ogwumike came up with a steal from Griner, then Candace Parker drained a 3-pointer with 47.1 seconds left, putting the Sparks up 87-82.
Taurasi drove the lane, drawing a foul from Carson, and made two free throws at 39.6 seconds. LA, up 87-84, called timeout and killed some clock before Gray missed on a drive, with the rebound going out of bounds to Phoenix with 15.8 left.
Out of a timeout, Danielle Robinson inbounded to Mitchell. Beard came up with her steal to largely seal the victory in the 78th meeting between the rivals, the most games Phoenix has played against any opponent.
The Sparks were playing their second game is as many nights and rebounded from a 96-90 loss at Dallas.
The Sparks went up 71-64 early in the fourth quarter. Griner brought the Mercury back within 73-71 with consecutive buckets before a 3-pointer by Beard for a five-point LA lead with 5:29 left.
The lead change hands multiple times in the third quarter before the Sparks used a 7-0 to take a 59-52 lead. Taurasi hit a 3-pointer to help the Mercury close within two. LA finished the period up 65-61 after Shay Murphy made a shot after the buzzer.
Griner and Camille Little combined for the first nine points, giving the Mercury a lead they rode until the final 10 seconds of the first quarter, when the Sparks went ahead 19-18.
Phoenix had first-quarter foul trouble as Griner, Taurasi and Talbot each picked up two fouls.
Gray scored 11 consecutive points for the Sparks, doing all of their scoring in a 9-0 run for a 23-18 lead early in the second quarter. Gray came in averaging 13. 6 points.
Ogwumike, 2016 WNBA Most Valuable Player, hit a 3-pointer for her first points more than 14 minutes into the game. The 6-9 Griner mostly was guarding the 6-2 Ogwumike.
Down seven (33-26), the Mercury rallied late in the second to lead 40-39 at halftime. Murphy scored five off the bench in a 14-6 run over the final 4:30.
Taurasi had 11 points at halftime when the Mercury led 15-11 on the boards.
The Mercury allowed an average of 89.6 points on their three-game road trip, a significant difference from their first five games (four at home) when they were giving up a league low 67.2. Going into Saturday, the Mercury’s overall points allowed was 75.6 ppg.
“I thought we just dropped off our aggressiveness a little bit (on defense) and obviously we got in foul trouble so it takes away being aggressive in that regard,” Brondello said Friday. “It’s paying a little bit more attention to detail, we allowed too many easy baskets, but it’s something that we can easily fix with sticking to the system how we want it.”
Taurasi passed Tamika Catchings for second in WNBA career field goals. She started the night needing 56 points for the league career scoring record.
Griner playing like WNBA MVP contender
Brittney Griner professes not to be in pursuit of WNBA Most Valuable Player, but a quarter of the way through the season, she’s playing at that level.
Coming off a career-high 38 points Wednesday, Griner leads the league in scoring (24.1 ppg) as well as blocks (2.9) and is eighth in rebounding (8.4). She is shooting 58.6 percent (fourth) and making 83.8 percent of her free throws, so putting her on the line isn’t a way out for opponents.
RELATED: Mercury schedule 2017
The 6-9 Griner, in her fifth season, is playing up to her height at just the right time, moving to center stage for the Phoenix Mercury ahead of Diana Taurasi, who turns 35 on Sunday.
“I’m not even talking about that,” Griner said Friday of the MVP buzz. “Honestly, I really don’t care about it. I just want to do what I need to do every night and get my team to the championship.”
Mercury coach Sandy Brondello is willing to bang the drum for Griner and push her toward a MVP season.
“That’s how important she is for us,” Brondello said. “If you have to say who’s the best player in the WNBA at the moment, her and Sylvia Fowles and (Elena) Delle Donne, it’s a close battle there.”
Reigning MVP Nneka Ogwumike is in that mix, too, and in town Saturday for the first meeting with the Mercury (5-3). The Sparks (4-3) are defending WNBA champions.
Griner was a sizzling 15-of-19 against Indiana at the end of a three-game road trip, scoring 23 points in the first half then, with five fouls, dropping eight of the Mercury’s first 10 in overtime of a 98-90 win.
RELATED: More WNBA coverage
“It’s my fifth season,” Griner said. “I can’t be that immature player on the court any more. If I get the foul, I need to be able to play with them. Don’t get them at all, honestly, but if I do get in foul trouble, coach can leave me in. I try my best not to do anything to get me out of the game because sitting on the bench, I can’t do anything.”
Griner’s strength gains during the WNBA offseason while playing in Russia, where Brondello is her assistant coach, are paying off, and she is less apt to lose her temper and poise.
RELATED: WNBA scoreboard
“She’s a focus for us at both ends of the floor, and she’s bringing it,” Brondello said. “This is what we need from her. Really, she hasn’t had one bad game, and the last game no one could stop her. If she just stays confident, I think she’ll be in good shape.”
Up next: Sparks at Mercury
When: 7 p.m. Saturday.
Where: Talking Stick Resort Arena.
Mercury: Diana Taurasi would need to average 28 points (up from 17.4) in the next two games to set the WNBA career scoring record at home. Otherwise, the mark is likely to come on the road. The Mercury (5-3) were 1-2 against Los Angeles last season. All were close games, with the Sparks winning 77-71 and 85-80 and the Mercury winning 70-66. The long-time rivals meet again in LA on June 18, then not again until Aug. 24.
Sparks: Defending WNBA champion Los Angeles lost 96-90 at Dallas on Friday, falling to 4-3 and ending a two-game win streak. Nneka Ogwumike had 28 points and Candace Parker 25 in the loss. Ogwumike, 2016 WNBA Most Valuable Player, went into Friday averaging 21.2 points, with F-C Parker at 15.0 and G Chelsea Gray 14.0. G Odyssey Sims was acquired in the offseason in a trade with Dallas. Rookie G Sydney Wiese is from Phoenix and F Ify Ibekwe played in college at Arizona.
Griner scores career high 38 in win over Fever
June 7, 2017
Story by the Associated press
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Brittney Griner scored eight of Phoenix’s first 10 points in overtime and finished with a career-high 38 to help the Mercury beat the Indiana Fever 98-90 on Wednesday night.
Griner, averaging 22 points, was 9 of 13 from the field in the first half for 23 points, but she played limited minutes in the third quarter because of foul trouble.
Her hook shot with three defenders around her gave Phoenix a 78-76 lead with 45.6 seconds left in regulation, but Erica Wheeler answered with a basket in traffic to tie it. Phoenix’s Diana Taurasi didn’t hit the rim on a contested 3-pointer and Wheeler missed a long jumper just before the buzzer.
Taurasi added 17 points for Phoenix (5-3) to move within 56 points of the WNBA’s all-time scoring mark. Griner grabbed nine rebounds and her first of two blocks moved her into sole possession of eighth place on the WNBA career list.
Wheeler scored a career-high 24 points and Candice Dupree added 23 for Indiana (3-5), which lost its first home game of the season. Briann January injured her left ankle early in the first quarter and did not return.
The Fever turned it over 21 times, but made 36 of 38 free throws.
Up next: The Mercury (5-3) host the Los Angeles Sparks on Saturday at 7 p.m.
– Associated Press
Phoenix Mercury at Indiana Fever
When: 4 p.m. Wednesday.
Where: Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis.
Mercury: Phoenix (4-3) lost 88-72 at New York on Sunday, ending a two-game winning streak. The Mercury beat Indiana 85-62 on May 17 with C Brittney Griner scoring a career high 32 points and pulling 10 rebounds. Phoenix led 52-29 at halftime in the first meeting. G Diana Taurasi is WNBA Western Conference Player of the Week for the 20th time in her 13-year career after scoring 37 points against Chicago and becoming the league career 3-point leader. Taurasi averaged 27 points last week and is 73 points away from breaking the WNBA career scoring record. The Mercury are home against Los Angeles on Saturday.
Fever: Indiana (3-4) beat Dallas 91-85 on Saturday, snapping a two-game losing streak. Former Mercury F Candice Dupree is averaging a team high 13.7 points and is shooting 50.6 percent from the field. G Briann January will play in her 233rd career game, second most in Fever history. January is returning to her alma mater Arizona State as an assistant coach in 2017-18. The Fever are 3-0 at home and 0-4 on the road.