With home-court advantage in the Western Conference playoffs on the line, the two teams that are in a league of their own this season in the WNBA battled evenly for 40 minutes Saturday until Brittney Griner blocked Lindsay Whalen’s game-tying attempt at the buzzer to secure an 82-80 home win for the Phoenix Mercury over the Minnesota Lynx.
Nine days after the defending-champion Lynx (24-7) ended the Mercury’s (26-4) 16-game winning streak in Minneapolis, Minnesota saw its own 11-game stretch go up in flames. After Maya Moore tied the game at 80-80 with 7.7 seconds left, Diana Taurasi hit what would be the game winner with 2.9 on the clock, and Griner followed, swatting Whalen’s drive to the rim.
“That goes straight to the top, No. 1,” said Griner of her block. “When she drove and tried to get the scoop layup, you’ve got to do what you got to do. This is a playoff game, we weathered the storm, they kept coming back and coming back.”
Moore owned the first quarter going 5-for-8 with 13 of her game-high 30 points, in leading the Lynx to a 28-20 advantage. With the game tied at 4-4, Moore drained a three, then was followed with one from Janel McCarville to give Minnesota the early edge. Moore would soon score six straight on a three and conventional three-point play, as the Lynx went up nine, and as many as 13.
Two free throws from Griner, who had 19 points and 11 rebounds for the night, tied the game at 35-35 midway through the second, capping a 7-0 Phoenix run. Seimone Augustus and Moore answered right back with seven points in the next minute prompting Mercury coach Sandy Brondello to call a timeout. Rejuvenated, Taurasi blocked Augustus and found an open DeWanna Bonner on the other end for a layup. A Taurasi fadeaway jumper with 30 seconds left gave the Mercury its first lead of the game, 43-42, going into the half on an 8-0 run.
“That’s playoff basketball, really,” Brondello said. “I mean, it’s back and to and fro, and it was just physical. Just a great standard, two of the best teams in the WNBA, and that showed.”
It took Moore 10 seconds into the third to regain the lead to the Lynx, and she followed that with another three. Bonner, who scored 16, put Phoenix ahead, 48-47, with a three, before McCarville capped another 9-2 Lynx run with one from downtown. Minnesota led 64-61 after three.
A Bonner trey three minutes into the fourth quarter put Phoenix up 69-68, only for Augustus to find the bottom of the rim on the Minnesota end. Taurasi sailed one in at 4:12 to put the Mercury up 75-74. It would be Augustus again who slid one in to give the Lynx another lead, 78-77 at 2:23. The Mercury possession with one minute left featured three offensive rebounds and four missed baskets before Moore sent Bonner to line where she knotted it at 78-78. Taurasi found Dupree in the paint with 25.2 ticks for the 80-78 lead, before Moore drove in to tie, Taurasi nailed the jumper for the lead, and Griner rejected Whalen.
“There were a lot of plays that kept us in the game,” said Taurasi, who scored 24 points. “They’re tough, that’s why they’re the defending champions. The reason to have home-court advantage is to play in front of your fans, and we’re a little closer.”
Penny Taylor added 13 points for Phoenix, and Candice Dupree grabbed nine rebounds. Augustus finished with 18 points, Whalen 10, and Rebekkah Brunson grabbed seven boards for Minnesota.
Next, the Mercury is at New York Tuesday and closes out the home schedule versus Los Angeles at 7 p.m. Aug. 16. The Lynx hosts the Sparks Tuesday.