A day that began with the Phoenix Mercury going into a game against Minnesota with a decided post advantage ended in mystery as to why 6-9 star center Brittney Griner did not play and when she might return.
With 6-6 Lynx center Sylvia Fowles out due to a calf injury, Griner was set up for potentially a big game Friday and to lead the Mercury out of a two-game losing streak.
Instead, she was ruled out for personal reasons an hour before tipoff with no more clarity after the game as to her status.
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“I don’t really know quite yet,” coach Sandy Brondello said following a 90-80 loss at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida. “I just know she wasn’t playing today. We’ll see.”
Brondello would not say if Griner’s absence was COVID-19 related.
6-4 Kia Vaughn replaced Griner and Bria Hartley moved into the starting lineup, joining Diana Taurasi and Skylar Diggins-Smith. The guard trio combined for 59 points. But without Griner (17.7 ppg, 7.5 rebounds, 1.8 blocks), the Mercury lacked a post presence and ultimately could not overcome 25 percent 3-point shooting (7-of-28).
“It was a different style,” said Hartley, who was averaging 15.1 points off the bench through her first 10 games (she missed two with injury). “We shot a lot more 3-pointers. It was probably a quicker pace, more pick and roll action. I thought we did a decent job. On the defensive end, we were able to be a little more aggressive. We’ve just got to go out there and play our best game whoever we’ve got out there.”
Brondello said, “We fought hard tonight. Brittney certainly would have helped us just changing the shots. They did a good job of finding mismatches and shot the ball well. I think the biggest thing is bringing consistent effort and continue to play together. Offensively keep moving the ball until we get a good shot. We take of those things, we should be OK.”
Lynx extend dominance in series
The Mercury led late in the second quarter, 40-39, before the Lynx closed the first half on a 12-2 run to lead 51-42.
Phoenix could never regain the lead but reduced an 11-point deficit (69-58) going into the fourth quarter to four (77-73) with 4:10 left.
Lynx rookie Crystal Dangerfield scored the next four points, pushing the lead back to eight. That was enough of a momentum shift for Minnesota (9-3) to improve to 19-1 against the Mercury since late 2015 including five playoff wins.
The Mercury dropped to 6-7, under .500 for the first time since being 1-2 on July 31. They have lost five of their last seven games and now could be without Griner for an undetermined length of time.
Still, Taurasi saw some bright spots compared to recent losses to Dallas and Los Angeles.
“I saw a lot of positives,” she said. “We did a lot of good things. We showed some improvements in a lot of areas, and we can still get better. You saw some people competing tonight and as a unit we competed really hard. It felt good out there. We attacked. It opened up the floor for Bria and Skylar to get downhill and do what they do best. It was pretty good for the first time being out (three guards together) for long stretches.”
Hartley was 8-of-16 shooting for 24 points, her fourth with that many or more. Diggins-Smith scored 21 on 7-of-13. Taurasi had 14 on 3-of-12. They were a combined 6-of-20 from 3-point.
Taurasi and Diggins-Smith each picked up a technical foul in the second half.
Starting posts Vaughn and Brianna Turner combined for just seven points (Turner had nine rebounds), but forward Alanna Smith scored 13 off the bench. Forward Nia Coffey suffered a hand injury in the closing seconds of the first half and did not return.
For the Lynx, second-year forward Napheesa Collier had 20 points and nine boards. Dangerfield and Damiris Dantas each scored 19 and Bridget Carleton had 14, all but two of those in the first half on 4-of-4 from 3-point.
The Mercury wrap up a three-game week against WNBA defending champion Washington on Sunday. The Mystics (4-8) broke a seven-game losing streak Wednesday by beating Atlanta before losing 101-92 in overtime to Dallas on Friday. 2019 WNBA MVP Elena Delle Donne and newly acquired Tina Charles are not playing this season for Washington due to medical issues. Former Mercury G Leilani Mitchell is starting for the Mystics.
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This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Missing Brittney Griner, Phoenix Mercury fall to Minnesota Lynx