By Mark Carlisle
PHOENIX — The Seattle Storm handed the Mercury its first loss of the season, topping Phoenix 87-71 thanks to 29 points from Jewell Loyd Wednesday night in Phoenix.
Mercury coach Sandy Brondello and her players attributed the loss to lack of effort.
“I think that in the end, the team that played harder won the game. Simple as that,” Brondello said.
The Mercury (2-1) trailed by 13 at the half after a dismal second quarter but cut the lead to 62-57 in the third. However, Loyd stamped out the rally with 14 fourth-quarter points, matching the Mercury’s total for the quarter.
The 2015 first overall pick got to the line in key moments during the fourth, making eight free throws in the quarter. Loyd was 10 of 10 from the line in the game.
Her 29 points, on 9 of 14 shooting, matches Brittney Griner’s league-high for the young season, which she scored during the Mercury’s 87-82 win over the Storm in Seattle Sunday.
These teams have seen a lot of each other. All four of Seattle’s games, two in the preseason, have been against the Mercury. Four of the Mercury’s five games have been against Seattle (1-1). It opened the WNBA season against Dallas Friday, May 18.
In the teams’ first regular season meeting Sunday in Seattle, the Mercury held Loyd to 10 points on 3 of 11 shooting. The Mercury players said they knew she would come out in full force Wednesday.
“Over there, she kind of had one of her off games, so we knew she was going to come out, and she did. She put her team on her back,” said Mercury forward DeWanna Bonner, who had nine points and nine rebounds.
Brondello said much of the team’s complacency came on the defensive end, and the stats show it. The Storm shot well across the board — 52 percent from the field, 39 percent from 3 and 96 percent from the free-throw line. The Mercury shot 44, 31 and 91 percent, respectively, in those categories.
“You don’t come ready to play in this league, you get your (butt) kicked. That’s just bottom line,” said Mercury guard Diana Taurasi. “And you’re going to lose games, you’re not going to go undefeated, but you know there’s a certain way to lose.”
Taurasi said the team had too many “lulls” on both sides of the ball, but it would talk about what went wrong at practice and bounce back.
The Mercury jumped out to a 13-2 lead, similar to the early start it got out to in Seattle. This lead, however, did not hold, as the Storm outscored the Mercury 31-14 in the second quarter to take a 46-33 half-time lead.
“I think we started off the game really well and, you know, got a little bit too comfortable,” Brondello said. “And they started making shots and putting a lot more pressure on us and they took us totally out of our game.”
Griner agreed that the energy dropped in the second quarter.
“I thought we started good, but then we kind of relaxed. We needed to relax once the game was over,” she said.
Brondello said a relaxed effort won’t get them fair in its next matchup.
“They don’t get any easier. We’re off to LA now,” she said. There, they’ll play the Sparks who swept the Mercury in the semifinals last season and have started 2018 2-0.
The Mercury’s go-to duo of Taurasi and Griner did their part Wednesday, scoring 23 and 18 points, respectively. Brondello said the team needs more from its other players.
“Brittney, once we started getting her the ball, and Diana, they were very strong tonight but we needed more contribution from our bench and the rest of our starters,” Brondello said.
Griner started slow, with six first-half points, but scored nine of Phoenix’s 24 points during its third-quarter push.
Unlike Loyd, the Mercury could not get to the line Wednesday. It shot 11 free throws, its fewest in a game since the start of the 2017 season, compared to Seattle’s 23 attempts from the line.
After the game was already out of reach, Griner and Taurasi were each called for a technical on the same play with two minutes to go in the game. Griner was arguing the foul just called against her, and Taurasi was arguing a no-call on her on the other end.
Alysha Clark added 16 points for the Storm.
Storm star Breanna Stewart, who scored nine points and grabbed 11 rebounds Wednesday, got a standing ovation from Phoenix crowd during the first quarter after the video board showed Mercury players applauding Stewart’s strength for detailing how she was molested as a child with a piece in The Player’s Tribune last fall, as part of the #MeToo movement.
“In this type of age, where athletes are really at the forefront of social media, for Stewy to come out and share her story can touch people from here to across the world and that will outlive any legacy that she can prove on the court,” Taurasi said in the video. “The stuff she does off the court is just as important.”