By Mark Carlisle
Despite missing their top scorer, the Washington Mystics found their magic in Phoenix Wednesday and beat the Mercury 105-93.
Kristi Toliver scored 30 points to hand the Mercury its third straight loss after Phoenix started the year 2-0. The Mystics are the WNBA’s first team to five wins, bouncing back Wednesday after their first loss of the season in Seattle Tuesday.
Washington’s top scorer Elena Delle Donne missed Wednesday’s game and part of Tuesday’s game with a stomach bug, but Toliver stepped in to fill the scorer role, taking control of Wednesday’s game at several points. After the 30-point performance, Toliver now leads the team with 17.6 points per game.
“She’s been great since the start of the season,” said Mystics coach Mike Thibault. “She’s probably in the best shape physically in a long time in her career. She just feels good about everything, and you can see it. Her confidence right now is really good.”
Twenty-seven points from Brittney Griner and a season-high 25 from DeWanna Bonner was not enough for the Mercury on a frustrating night. WNBA all-time leading scorer Diana Taurasi was scoreless at halftime and finished with just nine points on 3 of 10 shooting. In foul trouble early on, Taurasi sat much of the game before fouling out midway through the fourth quarter.
Taurasi and coach Sandy Brondello were each assessed technical during the game for arguing calls. Frustration over officiating bubbled from the Mercury sideline to the locker room after the game.
After the game, Griner had several expletives to describe the officiating. She said she’s tried to talk to the officials and ask them to watch for certain things in the paint, but they continue to not call the fouls she expects. She said the officials “suck.”
Taurasi, deflated after the loss, said the whole team needs to play better as a team and individually. With a four-letter word or two herself, she said she should expect no-calls from the officials.
“We’ve had the same referees for 20 years now, I just should expect them to be (bad) and I don’t, and I just need to play better.”
Brondello, though more diplomatic, shared in her players’ frustration over the officiating.
“We’ve got some amazing athletes out there, and we just want to watch them play,” she said. “I thought Washington got way more advantages than us tonight, and I don’t think Diana gets the respect that she deserves; I don’t think Brittney gets the respect that she deserves.”
Like Taurasi, Brondello said the team can’t change the officials but need to play better.
The Mystics got more whistles going their way, shooting 28 free throws compared to the Mercury’s 13 attempts. Washington, which leads the league in 3-point shooting percentage) also scored more from beyond the arc, making 11 of 17 3-pointers (65 percent) versus the Mercury’s 8 of 25 night from downtown (32 percent).
The final score was closer than most of the second half was, thanks to a 9-0 run from the Mercury bench in the final minutes. Washington’s largest lead was 22.
Rookie Ariel Atkins, starting in Delle Donne’s place, scored 21. Tiana Hawkins added 13 points and a career-high 12 rebounds for Washington.
It was the first time the Mystics had won in Phoenix since 2010, snapping an eight-game losing streak.
It won’t get easier for the Mercury, who now travel to Minnesota to play the defending champion Lynx Friday. The Lynx have also started slow and match the Mercury’s 2-3 record.
Brondello remained optimistic for the young season.
“We have to get better because at the moment we are not a really good defensive team, but we’ll get there,” she said. “It’s five games in, I’m not going to stop believing in this team.”
The Mercury signed 6-foot-6 center Angel Robinson Tuesday, though she did not play in Wednesday’s loss. Robinson played in 15 games for the Mercury in 2017, averaging 3.9 points and 3.9 rebounds. The team also waived rookie guard Imani Wright, from Florida State, keeping the roster at 11.