May 15, 2021
Mercury score rare win in Minnesota on Taurasi game-winner with clock stopped
Diana Taurasi saved the day while Brittney Griner returned to the team with a strong performance inside
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The past two seasons have put patience to the test for the Phoenix Mercury, and Friday night’s season opener kept the wait going a little longer, as a seeming Diana Taurasi game-winning three slurred into an official review so long that Mercury and Lynx players began stretching along the sideline to stay warm.
As Taurasi’s 28-foot pull-up three swished through in the final seconds to give Phoenix a lead, locking up what would be just the third Mercury win in Minneapolis since coach Sandy Brondello took over in 2014, teammates felt a mixture of confidence and relief.
“It’s tough to play here,” said center Brittney Griner, who left the bubble early in 2020. “But I knew that was going in as soon as [Taurasi] got it. She makes that shot all the time.”
A moment earlier, Taurasi took an ill-advised pull-up with the score tied at 71. But when Minnesota took a timeout with 57 seconds to go, guard Skylar Diggins-Smith pointedly told Taurasi to stay aggressive and take the next one when it came.
“You give Dee chances and she ain’t gonna miss too many of them,” said Diggins-Smith. “I said it after that second-to-last three that she took, I said, ‘Shoot it again, that looks good.’
“And you ain’t gotta tell her twice. She has no conscience when it comes to those shots.”
Yet whatever satisfaction the Mercury felt as their legendary teammate sunk another killer shot was suspended as a clock malfunction put the game in the hands of the referees. As Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve would explain postgame, an errant whistle resulted in the arena timekeeper stopping the clock at 6.8 seconds, around the time Taurasi caught the ball past half court.
To fix the mistake, officials gathered at the scorer’s table with a stopwatch, manually measuring how many seconds had passed between the pause and Taurasi’s bucket.
“I think they didn’t have great angles to see the clock, the game clock,” Taurasi said, “so they kept coming over and just saying, ‘We’re going to try to get it closest to the right time as possible.’”
Still, Minnesota had one final possession with a newly added 1.1 seconds to play, and couldn’t get a shot off before the buzzer.
Aside from the spectacular ending, Phoenix was able to lead throughout most of the low-scoring contest because of its rebounding. Long a problem for the Mercury, the boards were an advantage on Friday. Griner and third-year forward Brianna Turner combined for 22, more than half of what Minnesota had as a team (36).
“That’s what [Griner] and Breezy [Turner] should do every game,” Brondello said, “just because that’s their ability.”
Phoenix used their control of the boards to spur transition offense, with 17 fast-break points as a team.
“We know if we can rebound, we can run,” Brondello said. “It’s a team effort. … In transition, that was probably our best offense.”
The Mercury figure to need that inside presence on Sunday as they head to Uncasville, where they will take on a Sun team welcoming Jonquel Jones back to the lineup in 2021. Jones, in her first game back in the WNBA since a third-place MVP finish in 2019, put up 26 points and eight rebounds in a win over Atlanta.
Griner and Jones, teammates with UMMC Ekaterinburg in Russia during the offseason, often bring the best out of one another. But Griner will also face a different type of matchup defending Jones than she did against Minnesota’s Sylvia Fowles. The Sun deploy Jones on the perimeter, which could pull Griner out of the paint.
Such is life in the WNBA in 2021, where interior patrollers like Griner are less common and versatile, perimeter-oriented bigs dot the league.
A Taurasi miracle turned opening night into a celebration for the Mercury, but the team will hope for continued health and chemistry as they see the full roster together, starting with Connecticut on Sunday.