On Sunday afternoon in the desert, All-Star center Brittney Griner more than flashed the MVP-level play many believe she is consistently capable of. She posted 26 points, nine rebounds and eight assists, pushing the Phoenix Mercury past the Washington Mystics, 103-82.
In the first quarter, Griner put in 17 points, going 6-of-7 from the floor. The attention she attracted helped her make plays: She tossed four assists in the second quarter. Leilani Mitchell and Yvonne Turner were the beneficiaries of the Mystics’ defensive focus on Griner, finding scoring opportunities at the basket and from deep. Rookies Brianna Turner and Sophie Cunningham also provided energetic play. Their defensive contributions, in particular, prevented the Mystics from establishing an offensive rhythm.
In spite of having to battle Griner inside, Emma Meesseman served as Washington’s only source of reliable offense in the first half, with 12 points. More concerning was that the Mystics allowed Phoenix to shoot over 60 percent from the field. While the struggle to stop an engaged Griner is somewhat understandable, the scoring punch provided by Mitchell and Yvonne Turner indicts the Mystics’ defensive intensity. Washington trailed the Mercury 60-43 at the half.
The Mystics are letting Lei heat up from three...— Phoenix Mercury (@PhoenixMercury) August 4, 2019
While we feel this is a bold strategy, we're not going to tell them otherwise. pic.twitter.com/cUMNjzI6ff
At the outset of the third quarter, Elena Delle Donne briefly reminded everyone of her MVP bona fides. After scoring a quiet eight points in the first half, she put in a quick eight points in the first minutes of the third. Her flurry encouraged Phoenix to maintain focus on defense. Delle Donne and Meesseman would finish the game with 18 points apiece.
An early third-quarter three by Brittney Griner three was a sign that the Phoenix offense would continue to flow.
DeWanna Bonner, who had struggled in the first half, used her long and thin but strong frame to slink and slide to the basket for 10 points. But it was Mitchell and Yvonne Turner who continued to cook, draining bucket after bucket from distance. Mitchell finished with 23 points and Turner netted a career-high 22. In total, the Mercury shot 58.2 percent from the field, 50 percent from three and a perfect 13-of-13 from the free-throw line.
The other Turner, Brianna, scored a career-high 12 points, continuing to show the confidence she has cultivated in recent weeks.
Having dropped two straight games out of the All-Star break, Phoenix very much needed the win. Their blowout also offered a preview of their potential because Diana Taurasi, Essence Carson, Briann January and Alanna Smith all were inactive.
The Mystics, meanwhile, should appreciate the opportunity to move immediately past this uncharacteristically poor effort — they will take the court in Vegas on Monday night to finish their earthquake-interrupted game against the Aces. The resume play with a 51-36 lead.
After a slow start, the Sky systematically snuffed out the Dream, extending their lead through progressively solid efforts in the second, third and fourth quarters. Diamond DeShields filled the box score with 12 points, a career-high 12 rebounds and six assists. Stefanie Dolson led Chicago with 16 points, highlighted by a 4-of-5 shooting performance from distance. For Atlanta, the second-half absence of Tiffany Hayes due to what is presumed to be a broken nose, did not help the Dream’s scoring struggles as they again failed to find consistent offense.
Even though Erica Wheeler finally fell back to earth, the Fever still scored a second-straight win. Indiana’s bench stepped up big, with four reserves scoring double-digit points, led by Kelsey Mitchell’s 20. An extended All-Star break did not pay dividends for the Lynx, though. With a shortened rotation, Minnesota registered a defensive rating of 110.3, one of their worst marks of the season.
While Arike Ogunbowale turned in a ROY-worthy performance, shooting 4-of-4 from three on her way to 24 points, the Wings fell to the Aces for the second time this week. For Vegas, fellow rookie Jackie Young put up one of her strongest scoring performances of the season, netting 17 points to support Kayla McBride’s team-best 21. Citing a need for rest, Liz Cambage did not travel with the Aces to Dallas. But A’ja Wilson, still wearing a walking boot, did travel to support her team.
Alyssa Thomas and Courtney Williams called on their athleticism to make trouble for the Liberty and lead the Sun to their seventh-straight win. Williams repeatedly rose into her signature mid-range jumpers, scoring 28 points even as she still dialed up her defense on New York’s guards. Thomas, meanwhile, effectively dove and drove to the basket, putting in 16 points. On the other side, Kia Nurse again struggled to find her shot, leaving the Liberty without a reliable perimeter scoring threat.
The slimmed and steeled Candace Parker has returned from her extended ankle injury in top form. The former MVP dropped 21 points in just under 25 minutes of action. Her playmaking prowess combined with that of Chelsea Gray, who slung an octet of assists, supercharged the Sparks’ offense. The duo created easy buckets for July’s Player of the Month Nneka Ogwumike, who scored 13 points and grabbed 10 rebounds. L.A.’s margin of victory would have been greater if not for Seattle’s strong shooting from distance, with Alysha Clark and Sami Whitcomb each swishing four threes.
Where things stand
With a weekend loss dropping Minnesota to below .500, the eighth spot in the standings remains in play for ninth-place New York and tenth-place Indiana. A victory by L.A. put them in control of the cherished fourth spot: one game ahead of Chicago and two games ahead of Phoenix and Seattle. The loss on Sunday dropped Washington to the three seed, half a game below second-place Vegas. Connecticut solidified its spot at the top, while Dallas and Atlanta remain at the bottom.
Some rare Monday action in the W, as the Aces and Mystics complete their earthquake game. Tuesday, the Dream will welcome the Lynx to Atlanta — the last team they defeated before going on their seven-game slide. The Liberty and Sky face off on Wednesday night. A Mercury-Sparks matchup highlights a Thursday night triple-header. Friday night features a pair of intriguing matchups: Sun-Lynx and Sky-Aces.