PHOENIX — Construction of the hypothetical Phoenix Mercury powerhouse was set back Wednesday night by some shoddy labor.
The checklist of particulars is presented by superstar guard Diana Taurasi.
“Our spacing was terrible, our screening wasn’t good and we didn’t take care of the ball,” Taurasi said a few minutes after an 80-69 loss to the Minnesota Lynx that marked the official end of a three-game winning streak.
Taurasi and the Mercury also were outrebounded 54-32.
“Every shot they missed, they got the ball back 46 percent of the time,” Mercury coach Corey Gaines said. “It just killed us.”
With rookie center Brittney Griner and her left knee sprain limited to 22 minutes, Phoenix stood around while the Lynx tracked down 17 offensive rebounds that helped produce 19 second-chance points.
“They kind of out-toughed us at every position,” said Taurasi, who finished the night with a game-high 26 points. “We can’t let that happen.”
Aside from being destroyed on the backboards and making only 34 percent of their shots from the field, the Mercury did enter the fourth quarter with a 60-56 advantage.
“When it’s clicking, it’s clicking,” Taurasi said. “There were stretches where we were doing really well. There was a good tempo and we were making shots.”
Taurasi, who played close to 36 of 40 available minutes, began the fourth quarter on the bench. Minnesota closed to within a point (61-60) in less than two minutes, so she returned. But Taurasi didn’t score again until her 3-pointer with 50.9 left pushed Phoenix to seven of its nine fourth-quarter points.
A LOW PASSER RATING
Since the Mercury lost to the Lynx by 20 in Minnesota in the last game before their three-game surge, Taurasi has been working as the point guard.
In her previous two games, she kicked in an average of 31.5 points, 7.5 rebounds and eight dimes en route to a Western Conference Player of the Week nod. On Wednesday, her defining number was six, representing the number of pesky turnovers.
“If I’m going to handle the ball like that,” Taurasi said of assuming the role of primary ballhandler, “six is way too much.
“It wasn’t like I was making a play. I was just standing there and threw the ball into their hands three or four times. There’s no excuse for that. That’s just being soft.”
HOW ABOUT BRITTNEY?
Griner started each of the first three quarters, staying on the floor for five minutes in the first two and clocking 6:12 in the third.
Gaines had her back up with a bit over seven minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, but Griner wasn’t able to re-enter the game until the 5:50 mark.
“I don’t want to take her out … she’s not tired,” Gaines said. “Her minutes are increasing. At first it was three, then it was four, now five. It’s the doctor’s orders.”
Griner, whose minutes are limited by the Mercury medical staff, is thinking big picture.
“It feels good,” she said of the knee. “It’s not bothering me, they’re just taking precautions. Yeah, it’s frustrating, but I’d rather take it slow now than pay for it later on.”
In her regulated time against Minnesota, Griner produced 10 points (on 4-of-6 shooting), seven rebounds and no blocks.
With the defensive 3-second rule now part of the WNBA product, Minnesota center Janel McCarville was able to wander far enough from the lane to prevent Griner from loitering near the rim.
The Lynx also generated 38 points in the lane and made 10 of 17 shots from the field in the fourth quarter.
Although the Mercury staggered through that 34 percent shooting performance, Griner said she’s feeling more comfortable with her role.
“It’s starting to come to me a little bit better,” she said.
Before the season began, Gaines said he planned to keep his new post weapon on the move and into scoring position — without additional defensive help, ideally — by using Griner in ball-screen situations.
On Wednesday, most of structured attempts to get her the ball featured cross screens out of box formations.
When Griner was used in screen-roll, her presence — as expected — attracted defensive attention and helped create perimeter shots for teammates. But Phoenix couldn’t take advantage, going only 4 for 21 from 3-point range.
COLD NIGHT IN JUNE
The biggest chill experienced by a Mercury player was the 0-for-13 shooting performance turned in by DeWanna Bonner. Bonner, who opened the game by missing all six of her shots in the first quarter, whiffed on five shots beyond the arc.