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Phoenix’s downward spiral continues in absence of Griner

The Mercury grabbed an early lead on the road at Atlanta. However, once the third quarter started the game changed mainly because of Brittney Sykes and Layshia Clarendon. The duo carried the Dream to overtime and past Diana Taurasi and Phoenix.

Scott Cunningham - NBAE/Getty Images

Atlanta, GA — If you were fortunate enough to view this matchup in its entirety, you got a sweet deal. The contrast between the first and second halves was truly as if you had watched two different games of basketball. And then, you were granted overtime, the icing on the cake.

Those who keep up with sports media cannot avoid the blaring and unfortunate headline of Brittney Griner’s absence due to injury. She missed out on the fun of the All-Star weekend and is projected to miss about a month of the season. Her newly formed team has yet to win without her. They are now 0-4 since she exited the court.

“No one can replace Brittney Griner, she’s a special person,” said Phoenix’s head coach Sandy Brondello. “We need all the post-players to step up, no one in particular. We need the guards to step up because that’s 22 points that we’re missing. It’s a team effort. All players have to step up to fill that hole.”

If you are not up-to-date with the latest news in basketball or are unfamiliar with the history of the Phoenix Mercury this season as you viewed this game, it is likely that you did not notice any shortcomings for the team at all.

You would not have seen a 6’8’’ player camped on the bench. (Griner is not traveling with the team.) You would have witnessed their 18-point lead in the first half over a team carrying three 2017 All-Stars. You would have applauded their aggressiveness and would have been surprised to see this team fall in defeat.

The Mercury team in the first half was incredibly aggressive and disruptive towards the Dream. Their downward spiral began with the start of the second half as the leadership of Atlanta’s Layshia Clarendon fueled her teammates to quiet Diana Taurasi.

A great feat, but they succeeded nonetheless. Clarendon’s triple-double for the evening assisted her team in holding Taurasi to a basket-free third quarter and outscoring their visitor 30-12.

The Dream unleashed the same intensity into the fourth, creating a drastic contrast between the first half of play and the final. They concluded with the determination you would expect to see from a team containing three All-Stars (Clarendon, Tiffany Hayes, and Elizabeth Williams) and yet still sitting on the edge of playoff-readiness in eighth place.

Atlanta was awarded their victory after play exceeded into overtime, 99-91.

“The Dream did what they did the whole third quarter in that five-minute span. We had no answer. Offensively, we were a mess. Defensively, we were a mess. They took advantage of that,” Taurasi stated after the game on how overtime went for her Phoenix team.

The question that swirls around Phoenix is can the Mercury pull off a win without Griner on the floor? Following their first half performance tonight, many would argue that yes, they can, in fact, win without her. Especially as they conclude this month of play against Chicago and San Antonio, both teams lesser than Phoenix in current rankings.

Much of this struggle seems overwhelmingly mental rather than the potential of physicality. When you have a player that is either injured or is currently not pulling their weight of the team, the pressure is then placed on your shoulders constricting your ability to play care-free and hindering your overall confidence.

The added mental pressure on the shoulders of the already wobbly and newborn Mercury team is causing them to fall.

The Dream handed an exhausted Mercury team a crushing loss tonight, but they will have to remain persistent through the second-half of the regular season as they fight to keep ahold of the sought-after eighth place ranking and playoff berth.