Hobbled Mercury drop season opener

AP Photo/Ashley Landis

Crypto.com Arena was jumpin’ Friday night.

Nearly 10,400 strong packed the venue.

Not just because the 27th WNBA season was about to tip-off, but because the entire arena, regardless of fandom, was ready to see Brittney Griner back on the court.

“The love from the fans when we came out was amazing,” Griner said. “Didn’t get to experience that for a while so just taking it in, but staying focused. At the end of the day, I have a job to do. Can’t get caught up in the moment. Feel it but put it to the side a little bit.”

In her first non-preseason game since the 2021 WNBA Finals, Griner stepped up like she said she would – finishing with 18 points (7/9 FG), six boards, and four blocks in 25 minutes.

“Not good enough,” Griner said. “We didn’t get the dub…by All-Star I hope to be exactly where I want to be. Not having to limit my minutes or being able to just play.”

However, outside of Griner, Diana Taurasi (15 points, seven rebounds, five assists), and Moriah Jefferson (16 points, four assists, four rebounds), Phoenix simply didn’t have enough to keep up with the Sparks.

Los Angeles made 40% of its three’s, won the paint battle (34-24), grabbed 11 offensive rebounds, and took care of the basketball (LA: 7 turnovers, PHX: 22 turnovers) in its 94-71 win.

That can happen when three of the Mercury’s rotation players are out with injury; Sophie Cunningham (left knee), Shey Peddy (right Achilles), and Megan Gustafson (right foot).

“You take a part of a team that’s integral to the things that we do offensively and defensively,” Taurasi said. “Having a shooter is a premium in this league…when you make shots, it opens up a lot of things for the rest of the group. Having Sophie is huge and hopefully she’ll be back on the court soon.”

A matchup that started in Phoenix’s favor in the first quarter turned upside down after an implosive second quarter that saw the Mercury get outscored 35-19.

“We did some things that we were trying to get done early and we just didn’t sustain that,” Taurasi said. “They ramped up their pressure and it effected the things we were trying to do offensively. Everything is a trickle effect when it comes to the game of basketball. We just ended up having too many holes.”

This early in the season, there’s going to be a lot to improve upon and Nygaard noticed her team’s weaknesses right away.

“I thought the difference in the game for us are the turnovers,” Nygaard said. “It’s hard to win a game at any level with [22] turnovers…that led to us only getting 59 shots and they got 73…we can improve on both sides of the ball.”

With its home opener coming up on Sunday, Phoenix’s adjustments will have to be done efficiently. 

But that doesn’t mean there weren’t silver linings.

“We have a lot of work to do collectively,” Taurasi said. “You can practice as much as you want but the game is the game. Today was a step back in some of the things that we wanted to do but a step forward going into Sunday and knowing some things we need to shore up. We certainly aren’t peaking too early.”

Griner, Taurasi, and the squad will face the Sky at 1:00pm on Sunday.

Extra sights and sounds from the game: