The Phoenix Mercury earned multiple technical fouls and Diana Taurasi was ejected in a loss to the Minnesota Lynx, 80-75.
PHOENIX — Never has hypothetical conversation about what a game could have been gone so far — this one could have been a lot of things.
Tracking the mania to its origin means admitting aggressive defense by the Lynx set the tempo for the diabolical opening half of this game, which they won, 80-75.
Shorthanded due to Leilani Mitchell’s absence, no Mercury ball-handler could get Brittney Griner the ball, and as usual, Sylvia Fowles’ quickness posed a challenge for Griner. Phoenix had to fight to stay close.
“It’s the kind of game we always have against the Lynx,” Mercury coach Sandy Brondello said postgame. “It’s always very physical. … It gets a little emotional as well.”
The Mercury’s trusty safety valve, Diana Taurasi, was about the only reliable option on offense early. With DeWanna Bonner in the game, the Lynx were forced to try the bigger Seimone Augstus on Taurasi, and the Phoenix guard scored 14 points in her first 14 minutes.
Bonner was not long for the court — the wing was called for three fouls in the final three minutes of the first quarter.
Phoenix’s frustration bubbled over when a Bonner drive was called an offensive foul as her upper body swung into the chest of Lynx wing Maya Moore, and then changed to a Flagrant One foul, giving Minnesota possession. As Moore launched from 3 on the other end, Bonner was called for another foul, and Moore made all three free throws.
The tension built through the second quarter, as Minnesota kept its lead.
Camille Little, defending the Lynx frontcourt well and helping keep Fowles quiet, earned a foul 20 seconds into the frame, which caused a reaction from Taurasi. That reaction garnered a technical foul from the referees, who would soon become public enemies one through three in Phoenix.
As she often does, Taurasi turned her obvious frustration into a dominating run. Phoenix scored the next six points following the Little foul.
Then, Taurasi herself was called for a personal foul around the free-throw line as Minnesota ran its offense, after which she went to the ground in frustration. That was the final straw — reacting to Taurasi’s display of emotion, the officials called another technical and ejected her.
Brondello earned a technical foul as well in the eruption that ensued, with security ultimately called to the floor to escort Taurasi off the court to a chorus of supportive boos directed at the referees.
“It’s unfortunate… because I think we could have won that game if we keep her on the floor,” Brondello said.
Soon after, Bonner returned to the game and led a run nearly reciprocal to the one her teammate Taurasi put together in the first. Bonner scored the final 13 points of the half for the Mercury, cutting their deficit to two at halftime.
“When DeWanna is being aggressive and getting to the rack, I think that certainly helps us,” Brondello said.
Taking advantage of Bonner’s prolonged absence, Moore dropped in 38 points in the game, relentlessly attacking switches as Phoenix changed tactics.
It could have been a classic Moore-Taurasi battle, but once Taurasi was ejected, Phoenix lacked the firepower to compete with a locked-in Moore.
The Mercury looked drained in the third quarter, giving up a 15-point lead. But the high intensity of the game forced both teams into desperation, and Moore went cold at the wrong time.
It was Mercury forward Stephanie Talbot’s entry into the game which prompted Phoenix’s final push. She had 11 points and three rebounds in the fourth quarter, and her defense on Moore and Augustus helped quiet the Lynx attack.
“I’ve been in the gym every day for extra workouts just working on my game, just trying to make sure that my skills are ready for when my number’s called,” Talbot said.
“She stepped up and took the opportunity that was presented to her,” Brondello said. “It’s great we can get her going, because we’re going to need everybody on our bench.”
The game was close in the final minutes, but a Robinson jumper from the free-throw line gave Minnesota a three-point lead with less than a minute left the Lynx would not give up.