Phoenix Mercury center Brittney Griner on her three-game suspension.
Jeff Metcalfe, azcentral sports
The Phoenix Mercury have been without one of their Big Three virtually all season.
Griner again accepted responsibility for her actions Tuesday, reiterating many of the comments she made Monday, while disagreeing with the league ruling to suspend Dallas’ Kristine Anigwe and Kayla Thornton for only two games.
“I got three games, I’m not disputing that at all,” Griner said. “Do I think it should have been three across the board? I would have been happy with that. I’m not happy, and it’s not because of my suspension I take ownership of mine, no place for that in sports, and I apologize to everybody that was there.
“It was turning out to be such a great night. A dunk, won some money for a fan, had over 600 shoes brought in (for her Heart & Sole charity drive on Griner bobblehead night). It definitely didn’t turn out that way at the end.”
Griner said if she received three games for chasing after Anigwe after being pulled and struck by the Dallas rookie, then Thornton’s penalty should have been the same for crossing the court and attempting to hit Griner near the scorer’s bench.
Official Billy Smith held his ground between Griner and Thornton to prevent punches from landing.
“You can’t pursue somebody like that,” Griner said. “That’s why I don’t understand why it’s not three (games) across the board. There was more pursuing from the other side of the court. It takes two for every altercation. I think it should be fair across the board.”
Mercury guard Diana Taurasi also was suspended for one game and fined $500 for leaving the bench. Taurasi has played in just one game this season coming off of back surgery and more recently because of a hamstring injury.
She will serve her suspension once medically cleared to play.
The net effect is that the Mercury (11-12) will be without WNBA scoring leader Griner (19.4 points per game) and WNBA career scoring leader Taurasi for the first time this season in addition to three other injured players (Sancho Lyttle, Essence Carson, Alanna Smith) for home games against Connecticut (16-8) on Wednesday, Atlanta on Friday and New York on Sunday.
Rookies Brianna Turner and Sophie Cunningham will start Wednesday in a nationally televised game with Bonner, Leilani Mitchell and Yvonne Turner. Briann January, who was among six players ejected Saturday, did not receive additional discipline from the league and is available as one of the Mercury’s nine active players.
“We could have two people on the court against five, and I’m still going to say we can do it,” said Griner, who will be watching from home due to her suspension and planning to text suggestions at halftime. “That’s how much faith I have in our team. Our rookies are really getting thrown in the fire this year, and I’m really proud of them. Breezy (B. Turner) especially, she’s down there fighting with the big ‘uns. It’s tough, but I think they’re picking up the slack of people that are out.”
The 6-foot-3 Turner will play center replacing 6-foot-9 Griner with 6-foot-4 Bonner back at power forward and 6-foot-1 Cunningham back in the starting lineup at small forward. Bonner, fourth in WNBA scoring (18.0 points per game), sat out of practice Tuesday, symbolically resting for the load she’ll need to carry the rest of this week.
Griner played just 10 minutes at Connecticut on Aug. 1 because of an ankle injury, and the Mercury still were competitive in a 68-62 loss.
The Mercury also were backed into an injury corner Aug. 4 and responded with a 103-82 blowout win over Washington, although Griner almost put up a triple-double in that game.
Mercury coach Sandy Brondello called Griner’s suspension an “uncontrollable,” similar to the team’s rash of injuries. “Losing BG at this stage of the year trying to fight for a playoff (berth) is tough. Our opponents will enjoy it more than we will.
“I still believe in the players we have even though we have some pretty good ones not in the game.”
Their previous game against Connecticut could offer a blueprint for how the Mercury could beat the Sun without Griner, Brondello said.
“We played well, but there’s areas we could have done better,” Brondello said. “We turned the ball over too much in the first half where we really could have got a little separation because they couldn’t score. Then we gave up too many offensive rebounds and Courtney Williams hurt us. We need that same effort and maybe a little bit more.”
Taurasi did work on the side during practice Tuesday but did not speak about her suspension afterward. She appears to be closer to playing for the first time since her only attempt this season on July 12.
In her place
While Griner is serving her suspension during Wednesday’s game against the Sun, she will have 300 Mercury fans in attendance in her place.
The Mercury announced on Tuesday that Griner purchased 300 tickets for fans that will be distributed on a first-come, first-served basis out front of Talking Stick Resort Arena beginning at 4:30 p.m. on Wednesday.
Connecticut Sun at Mercury, 7 p.m. Wednesday, Talking Stick Resort Arena, ESPN2 — Connecticut (16-8) leads the season series 2-0 over the Mercury (11-12), winning 79-64 on July 12 and 68-62 on Aug. 1. Both teams are on a two-game losing streak but before then the Sun won seven straight.
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