Mercury stars still enjoy rare loss

PHOENIX — For three Mercury participants, Saturday’s WNBA All-Star Game was business unusual.

OK, so like the typical all-star tilt, this was an exhibition, something of an invitation-only pick-up game — if a pick-up game can be nationally televised and conducted at US Airways Center with 14,685 live witnesses.

Having nothing much at stake then, we’re left with some anomalies that attached themselves to Diana Taurasi, Brittney Griner and Candice Dupree.

We’ll start with the collective. Working on the losing side of a 125-124 overtime victory by the East, the three Mercury stars experienced losing for the first time since June 12.

It didn’t seem to matter.

"That was a fun game to watch and to be a part of," Taurasi, a West starter who played a small part in her seventh WNBA All-Star Game, said. "That’s what all-star games are all about."

Taurasi, the world-class floor leader of a Mercury team on a 12-game winning streak and 18-3 overall record, managed a pair of buckets early in the third quarter.

East tops West in OT

She didn’t scratch in the first half, so after making it her business to nail a free throw-line jumper and convert a reverse layup, Taurasi was done with just 3:08 gone in the second half.

For stats, that was pretty much it. Oh, she did have two assists — well, three if you count passing the torch to some of her younger teammates.

When it was over, Taurasi — due to a prior agreement with West coach Cheryl Reeve — had 16-plus minutes of floor burn and plenty of rest for when the real season resumes.

Griner, who was injured and couldn’t fill her elected starter’s role last season, was considerably busier. Her numbers — 17 points (on 8-of-13 shooting), five rebounds and three blocks in 26 minutes — weren’t bad.

But taken off the stat sheet, the second-year center was something else.

Yeah, she dunked, hammering home a one-hander after sliding along the right baseline and snagging a nifty pass from Candace Parker.

Griner also looked impressive on the game’s first offensive play. After guiding the opening tap to Taurasi, Griner sprinted toward the rim, caught an attempted alley-oop lob from Moore and finished while falling out of bounds.

The really interesting Griner event occurred with 9:15 left in the third and was inspired by an unusual rate of success during Friday’s practice.

"In practice, I hit six in a row," she said, referring to drilling consecutive 3-pointers.

"So in this game," Griner said, "I said I was gonna shoot me a 3 in the All-Star Game … so I did."

Left corner, in rhythm … bucket.

"It felt real good coming of the hand," Griner said, "so I was happy."

It should be noted that it was her first 3-point attempt as a WNBA player; she squeezed off five attempts (she made two) in four years at Baylor.

We’re not sure if first-year Mercury coach Sandy Brondello was happy to see her prized center hit from downtown or worried Griner will campaign to shoot a few more.

"If she lets me, I’ll shoot one in game," Griner said. "Maybe … nah … stay down low."

All-Star gallery

For Dupree — who’s dangerously familiar with her lane-area comfort zones and didn’t stray from them Saturday — the only All-Star oddity was the losing.

Her actual performance was pretty typical. And that’s a very good thing for any team she suits up for. When the tempo stalled long enough for an almost-structured offensive maneuver to be required, Dupree gave us pick and slide to the elbow, catch the pass and hit the jumper.

In transition, which didn’t include the defense from either team until the fourth quarter, Dupree — making her first All-Star appearance since 2009 — simply ran to the rim.

The only Mercury collaborator to not start this one, Dupree finished with 12 points (making 6 of 9 shots) and eight rebounds in a bit over 18 minutes.

"It was great," Dupree said of her return to the league’s showcase," especially being in front of our home fans.

"They did a great job of representing the WNBA today. It was a packed house — I think that was the loudest I’ve ever heard it in here."

With a 21-3 record behind them and some dangerous teams in the WNBA’s Western Conference, Taurasi, Griner and Dupree may have just enough to bring just as much noise.

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