Phoenix Mercury fall to 2-2 after home loss to New York Liberty. Video: azcentral sports
Her one-game suspension served, Diana Taurasi returns to the court Saturday hoping a week off helps in overcoming a slow start to her 13th WNBA season.
Taurasi is averaging 11 points and shooting 21.2 percent (22.2 from 3-point) in three games, all well below her career averages (19.9 ppg, 43.7 FG percent, 36.6 3-point). She is not completely healthy coming off her nine-month Russian season.
“That last week, I had a bit of a hip, back thing I’m trying to get over,” Taurasi said. “It’s not easy when you’re in season and going from one season to another. It’s something I’ve been working on the with trainers and the physios. But when you’re on the court, you want to play at a high level. I feel like I’ve just been out there lately, and I’ve got to get back to helping this team play better.
“When your back is a little messed up, it kind of throws you all off. The first thing you do is clinch trying to brace your back some. I’ve felt better the last couple of days and hopefully tomorrow it feels better in the game.”
Taurasi, who turns 35 on June 11, recently signed a contract extension that could take her through 2020 provided she stays healthy.
“It’s definitely going to be a different summer for me as far as getting together with the coaches and for the first time talking about days where I probably don’t even come to the gym,” she said. “Mentally and at this point physically, too, it’s something I’m going to really take a hard look at to be able to make it. You want to be healthy when it counts.”
The Mercury are 2-2 after losing 69-67 to New York on Tuesday with Taurasi out after hitting a San Antonio player on May 19. They play for the second time this month against the Dallas Wings (3-1), who won 68-58 over Phoenix in the season opener May 14.
Speaking about the suspension for the first time, Taurasi said, “The league has a certain way of judging plays. I’ve seen a lot of plays, and I don’t see a lot of people ever getting suspended, I know that for a fact.”
She said there were positives in the Mercury rallying from 55-40 down to lead 67-62 before failing to score in the final 2:51 to suffer a second home loss.
“We had a lot of people contribute like Emma (Cannon) and Yvonne (Turner) off the bench,” Taurasi said. “Those are the things that are going to make us a better team. In that regard it was nice, but then obviously you want to win the game.”
Dallas Wings at Phoenix Mercury
When: 7 p.m. Saturday.
Where: Talking Stick Resort Arena.
TV: Fox Sports Arizona.
Mercury: F Camille Little, acquired in a three-team offseason trade that sent Candice Dupree to Indiana, is averaging just 5.5 points and one rebound and shooting 14.3 percent from 3-point. Against New York, partly due to foul trouble, Little only played 10 minutes with no points and one board. “She’s still getting her legs under her,” coach Sandy Brondello said. “I’m fine with Camille. She’s a veteran, she’s going to be fine. I just say shoot when you’re open and her defense has been very solid for us and she’s a great leader. It’s more about her staying confident, and she’s going to get to where she has been in the past. We’re not worried about her.” After Saturday, the Mercury play three straight on the road starting Thursday against Chicago.
Wings: Dallas outscored San Antonio 33-13 in the fourth quarter Thursday for a 94-82 win. Five players scored in double figures including F Karima Christmas-Kelly with 18 and rookie G Allisha Gray 17. Gray and G Kaela Davis, both from NCAA champion South Carolina, combined for 31 points against Phoenix on May 14. F Glory Johnson is averaging 10.7 rebounds and had 14 in the first Mercury game when the Wings dominated 41-17 on the boards.
Mercury comeback falls short in loss to Liberty
The Phoenix Mercury wanted to get the ball to 6-9 Brittney Griner for a game-tying attempt in the closing seconds Tuesday night.
Instead, the New York Liberty took away a pass to Griner so 5-5 Leilani Mitchell had to try to pull up off a drive instead that 5-9 Liberty guard Sugar Rodgers blocked to preserve a 69-67 New York win at Talking Stick Resort Arena.
The Mercury (2-2), playing without suspended guard Diana Taurasi, rallied from 15 behind late in the third quarter to lead by five with 2:51 left before New York (2-1) scored the final seven points.
RELATED: Phoenix Mercury schedule 2017
“They sagged on BG (Griner) and Leilani just had to make a play there,” Mercury coach Sandy Brondello said of the final 4.5 seconds after Epiphanny Prince hit a 20-footer to put the Liberty ahead. “It wasn’t to be tonight, but we’ll be better for this experience.”
Mitchell, starting in place of Taurasi, only shot 2-of-13 but was key in the rally with several steals and four points in a 14-0 run that all but erased a 55-40 deficit. The former Liberty guard finished with 11 points, hitting all seven of her free throws, and had five assists, four rebounds and four steals.
“It was tough, probably 50-50 I guess,” Mitchell said when asked if she was fouled on the last shot. “I felt like there was contact, but that’s the way it is. It was kind of tough to get it in (to Griner) so obviously we had four seconds to try to make a play.
Mercury coach Sandy Brondello discusses her team’s 69-67 home loss to the New York Liberty and Diana Taurasi’s absence on Tuesday. Jeff Metcalfe/azcentral sports
“It was a bit disappointing we didn’t get stops when we needed to, but they have great players. They’re a tough team, big matchup and we’re without our star player so I thought our effort was incredible tonight just to come back from those deficits.”
The Mercury trailed 44-34 at halftime then gave up just 25 points in the second half. But they shot only 34.4 percent and made just three of 19 from 3-point range.
Prince hit a 3-pointer when the Mercury were up 67-62 then Kia Vaughn made a short turnaround for a tie game. Cayla George missed two late 3-point tries for Phoenix and Mitchell missed a jumper before Prince made what proved to be the winning basket.
Taurasi was ruled out by the WNBA for hitting a San Antonio player last week. She was averaging 11 points through the first three games but only shooting 21.2 percent. Taurasi will return when the Mercury host Dallas (1-1) on Saturday.
“The bench was huge for us (with 25 points and 10 rebounds),” Mercury guard Danielle Robinson said. “We knew what we had to do (without Taurasi). We just wish we had started it a little bit earlier in the first half.”
The Mercury came into the game allowing 67.3 points per game, fewest in the WNBA and down from 83.3 last season.
“We talked about how they’ve improved their defense, no question about that,” Liberty coach Bill Laimibeer said. “It looks like there are going to be lower scoring games this year. They have the offensive fire to pull some wins out.”
Griner led Phoenix with 19 points and six rebounds. Stephanie Talbot and Yvonne Turner scored 12 and Mitchell 11.
Prince had 24 and Charles 22 for the Liberty.
The Liberty went up 55-40 on a deep 3-pointer by Prince late in the third quarter before the Mercury put together a 12-0 run in the final 2:33.
Mitchell sparked the rally with four points and several steals, helping Turner to get six points mostly in transition.
The Mercury trailed by nine early after an 11-0 Liberty run made it 13-4 then fought back to lead 20-19 at the end of the first quarter. George hit a pair of 3-pointers to spark that comeback.
New York dominated most of the second quarter for a 44-34 halftime lead. Charles had nine of her 15 first-half points in the second including a 3-pointer.
The Mercury shot just 33.3 percent (12-of-36) in the first half and were out-rebounded 22-16. Griner and Emma Cannon had seven points each in the first half.
The Liberty are without guard Brittany Boyd, who suffered a season-ending Achilles injury in a game against Minnesota last week.
In regular-season games without Taurasi, not including 2015 when she sat out the WNBA season, the Mercury are 9-33. They did win 83-64 over San Antonio in her last missed game in July 2016.
In this week’s Associated Press WNBA power poll, the Mercury are ranked fifth out of 12 teams behind defending champion Los Angeles, Minnesota, Seattle (its highest ranking ever) and New York.
Mercury unhappy over Taurasi suspension
May 22, 2017
Reaction from the Phoenix Mercury ranged from profane to philosophical Monday regarding Diana Taurasi’s one-game suspension for striking San Antonio’s Dearica Hamby.
Taurasi will sit out Tuesday’s home game against New York (1-1), a team she scored 30 against last year in the WNBA playoffs. She will return for Saturday’s home game against Dallas. The Mercury (2-1) will start Leilani Mitchell in Taurasi’s place against the Liberty, whom she played for from 2008-13.
What initially was ruled a technical foul against Taurasi on Friday was changed by the WNBA office to a flagrant foul 2 carrying a mandatory suspension.
Center Brittney Griner insisted on being quoted about the suspension being “bulls–t,” saying that neither she nor Chicago’s Cappie Pondexter were suspended last year for an incident in which both were ejected.
Mercury coach Sandy Brondello also believes the Taurasi penalty was too stiff.
“She did obviously hit the girl but another player in a similar incident a few games before did the same thing but she wasn’t suspended,” Brondello said. “So to me it’s more let’s keep it consistent. It’s not just what Diana Taurasi does. That’s my biggest disappointment.”
Taurasi will be missing her eighth game since 2007 due to league/team suspension for a variety of reasons.
The Mercury’s Diana Taurasi married former teammate Penny Taylor this past Saturday.
USA TODAY Sports
“Diana plays hard and teams play her very physical,” Brondello said. “I supposed that’s what they need to do to slow her down. She’s a great player. I’m not going to curb her emotions because that’s one of her greatest strengths as well and what makes her special. Maybe these few days off will be good for (her) because she needed it.”
Taurasi, 34, is averaging 11 points on 21.2 percent shooting, way off her career numbers (19.9 ppg, 43.7 percent FG). She is 145 points away from becoming the WNBA career scoring leader, which at current pace would take until mid-July to accomplish.
“Maybe it’s blessing in disguise,” Brondello said. “She’s tired coming back from Russia and obviously with the wedding. Maybe this could freshen her up a little bit and help as we move forward. She’s got no legs at the moment. Sometimes you need rest more than anything.”
Taurasi plays overseas in Russia during the WNBA offseason on a team with Griner and Brondello as assistant coach. She returned and a week later was married May 13, the day before the season opener.
Mitchell has been coming off the bench but also playing some together with starting point guard Danielle Robinson. They are averaging a combined 21 points and 10.4 assists. With Shay Murphy out due to injury, the Mercury backup guards Tuesday are Yvonne Turner and Alexis Prince. Rookie Sophie Brunner also could play some on the perimeter.
“Obviously missing Diana will be a big hit to us,” Mitchell said. “We all have to do a little bit more. It’s not going to be one person replacing her. We all need to step up and bring a little more offense especially. I just go out and play my game, shoot my shots when I’m open. We’re not asking BG (Griner) to go out and score 40 points. Everyone just needs to be aggressive.”
Mitchell has 131 career starts including 26 with the Mercury in 2015. She was the league’s Most Improved Player in 2010, averaging 9.3 points and 3.8 assists. Last year, she sat out most of the season training with Australia for the 2016 Rio Olympics.
New York at Phoenix
When: 7 p.m.
Where: Talking Stick Resort Arena.
Mercury: C Brittney Griner is second in WNBA scoring at 23.3 ppg behind Seattle’s Jewell Loyd (26.0). G Danielle Robinson’s 6.7 assists per game is second in the league behind Chicago’s Cappie Pondexter (7.7). The Mercury were 1-2 against New York in the 2016 regular season then beat the Liberty 101-94 in a playoff second-round single elimination game at Madison Square Garden.
Liberty: The Liberty lost G Brittany Boyd for the season Friday when she suffered a torn Achilles in a game against Minnesota. G Sugar Rodgers is averaging 13.5 points, while F Tina Charles is averaging nine points and seven rebounds. Charles had a 31-point game against the Mercury last season. New York beat San Antonio 73-64 before losing 90-71 to Minnesota. New York is coached by Bill Laimbeer in his fifth season and 13th overall in the WNBA.