INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — With injured rookie star Brittney Griner sitting out against the defending champions, Diana Taurasi stepped up and led the Phoenix Mercury to their first win of the season.
Taurasi scored 15 of her 26 points in the second half and the short-handed Mercury beat the Indiana Fever 82-67 on Saturday. DeWanna Bonner added 24 points and 11 rebounds for Phoenix (1-3).
Griner, selected No. 1 overall by Phoenix in this year’s WNBA draft, was a late scratch from the lineup with a left knee sprain.
“It was difficult not playing with (Griner) because we’re used to playing with her,” Taurasi said. “But it gave a good opportunity for other people to step up. We’re going to need everybody.”
Griner suffered the injury in Thursday night’s loss at Minnesota. The former Baylor star was evaluated by the team doctor Saturday morning and was ruled out afterward. Griner, averaging team highs of 16.7 points, 6.7 rebounds and 2.3 blocks, isn’t expected to miss significant time.
In her absence, Taurasi routinely found the open spot on the floor, shooting 9 for 19 from the field and 4 for 11 on 3-pointers. Taurasi also had five assists and four rebounds.
Shavonte Zellous had a season-high 29 points on 10-of-13 shooting for the Fever (1-3), who suffered its third consecutive loss. Indiana was again without All-Star Katie Douglas (back) and continues to struggle to find depth on its bench because of injuries. Jessica Davenport (left leg), Erin Phillips (torn right meniscus) and Jeanette Pohlen (left ACL) have not played this year and are not expected back before midseason.
Fever coach Linn Dunn said she didn’t learn Griner would miss the game until about three minutes prior to tip-off.
“We were ready for Griner, and it really threw us off that she wasn’t in there,” Dunn said. “It reminded me of the old Phoenix team in 2009 that won a championship. They went with their length, their quickness, their speed.”
Taurasi struggled to find a rhythm early and grew frustrated in the second quarter. After what she thought should have been a foul call, Taurasi was whistled for a technical and was visibly upset on the Phoenix bench afterward.
But the technical only fueled Taurasi, who scored 10 points in the quarter and helped cut the Indiana lead to 38-37 at halftime.
“I need her to show that (fire),” Mercury coach Corey Gaines said. “If I get her to flat line, that’s not good. … She’s the star. She took over the game.”
The Fever reserves went a combined 4-of-13 for 11 points. Even more worrisome for Indiana was the Mercury’s 42-30 edge on the glass.
“It’s almost like when we don’t do our rebounding drills every day, we forget to rebound,” Dunn said. “It’s not yet an ingrained habit.”
The national broadcast also featured the debuted of a new referee cam. Official Lamont Simpson wore the cam, which looked like a pair of glasses with a camera on the right side over his ear. Gaines joked with Simpson before the game about whether his peripheral vision would be impaired by the camera.