Ariel Atkins was missed. The rookie missed her second game in a row with a concussion, and she was missed in the starting lineup. She’s a better offensive player than Tierra Ruffin-Pratt, who started in her place Saturday, and a better defensive player than Shatori Walker-Kimbrough, who started in her place on Thursday against New York. Ruffin-Pratt was 0-for-3 on the day for zero points.
Tierra Ruffin-Pratt did a great job defensively on Diana Taurasi, though. Taurasi only scored seven points on Saturday night, thanks to phenomenal defense by Ruffin-Pratt, with assists from Natasha Cloud and Currie. Still, Taurasi found a way to impact the game, as she always does, with nine assists and six rebounds.
The Mystics had no answer for Bonner. You know what’s absolutely ridiculous? Three of the Mercury’s starters, the No. 3-No. 5, are 6’4″ or over. That amount of length is just practically impossible to counter. And, while Griner of course deserves all the praise in the world, Bonner might just be the most versatile weapon the Mercury have. On Saturday, Bonner was 7-for-14 from the field, including 7-for-8 from the line and 2-for-5 from the arc, but her biggest impact might have come defensively. When these two teams faced off in Phoenix earlier this month, Kristi Toliver scored 30 points. But in Saturday’s game, Bonner took over guarding Toliver and really knocked her off of her rhythm. When you have a 6’4″ forward who can match up with one of the best shooting guards in the league defensively, goodness, what a gift.
Tayler Hill is making a real impact. Hill was 0-for-3 from the three-point line, which is probably more a sign of tired legs than anything. However, like she did last year before her injury, she found a way to make an impact by driving to the basket and drawing a foul, or simply by stepping in for the jumpshot. Overall, she played for 20 minutes, was 3-for-8 for 11 points – including 5-for-6 from the line – and added in two rebounds, two assists, and a block. She entered the game in the first quarter, and played crucial minutes throughout. Right now, according to head coach Mike Thibault, the biggest thing holding back Hill is her fitness. It’s hard to get back into game shape unless you’re actually playing games, so it might be another couple of weeks until she’s really looking like the Hill of old. But this was an incredibly promising game from her.
Delle Donne, Griner live up to the hype. When you think of how often much-hyped players flame out when they turn pro, it really makes what Delle Donne and Griner – the top two picks of the 2013 WNBA draft – are doing that much more impressive.
Delle Donne was often being guarded defensively by Griner – who has become a much better defender outside the paint in recent years — and yet she still finished with 27 points, 13 boards. Meanwhile, the Mystics were throwing everything they could at Griner, and she still made 24 points look easy. Both are firmly in the race for MVP. (When you add what Skylar Diggins-Smith is doing in Dallas, the “Three to See” campaign ahead of the 2013 WNBA season might be the most accurate campaign in sports history.)
Tianna Hawkins, Krystal Thomas and Yvonne Turner were the Bench Players of the Game. Okay, so Hill was really the Mystics’ best bench player on Saturday, but we’ve already talked about her, so let’s talk about Hawkins. While Hawkins only scored five points, she also grabbed five rebounds, had two blocked shots, and really made things difficult for Griner in the post at times. Same for Thomas, who played a really solid 10:25, in which she went 3-for-4 from the field for six points and three boards. LaToya Sanders has earned her spot in the starting lineup at the No. 5, but having someone with Thomas’ size able to come in and bully players like Griner around when they’re getting too comfortable is such a gift. And Hawkins’ flexibility is just so underrated. She is superb on defense, yet still has the ability to stretch the floor and hit threes.
Meanwhile, Turner was absolutely a machine for the Mercury, which was particularly important on a night that Taurasi was only 2-for-13. Turner had 12 points, nine rebounds, six assists, and three steals. That is a career night, and Thibault said she was the one who really sealed the game for Phoenix with her shooting, rebounding, and defense late in the fourth.
Lyttle and Little were injured down the stretch. Late in the fourth quarter, Sancho Lyttle came down awkwardly on her left knee and had to be helped off of the court. She went right to the locker room, and wasn’t able to put any weight on it. About a minute later, Camille Little turned her ankle, and had to come out of the game hobbling. The Mercury already work with an incredibly short rotation – most nights, they only play eight players – so any injuries will really impact their rotations. Hopefully both Lyttle and Little will be back soon.