Mercury Digest: Diana Taurasi out for remainder of season, Phoenix signs Yvonne Turner

·20 min read
July 28, 2022;  Phoenix, Arizona; USA; Mercury guard Diana Taurasi (3) looks over at the officials during a game against the Sparks at the Footprint Center.
July 28, 2022; Phoenix, Arizona; USA; Mercury guard Diana Taurasi (3) looks over at the officials during a game against the Sparks at the Footprint Center.

The Phoenix Mercury announced Monday that 18-year WNBA veteran Diana Taurasi will miss the remainder of the 2022 season because of a right quad strain.

Taurasi injured her quad during Phoenix's Aug. 4 game against Connecticut and has missed the Mercury's past two games. Before her injury, she started every game of the season for Phoenix. Taurasi averaged 16.7 points per game in 2022.

Diamond DeShields will likely take Taurasi's spot in the starting lineup. DeShields has shifted between the starting lineup and the bench this season, averaging 13 points per game.

To fill the roster spot, the Mercury signed Yvonne "Vonnie" Turner to a hardship contract. Turner has been with the Minnesota Lynx and Atlanta Dream this season, both on hardship contracts.

Turner played 95 regular season games with the Mercury from 2017-19, averaging 5.2 points.

The Mercury are currently in the playoff hunt, sitting in the eighth and final spot with a 14-19 record. Phoenix will play its final three regular-season games at home against the 10th place Minnesota Lynx, 6th place Dallas Wings, and 1st place Chicago Sky.

—Chloe Peterson

Diamond DeShields set to return in Phoenix’s road finale at Connecticut, Taurasi questionable

July 17, 2022; Phoenix, Ariz., U.S.; Phoenix Mercury guard Diamond DeShields (1) cheers her team on from the bench during the second half against the Atlanta Dream at Footprint Center. DeShields is sitting the game out due to a hip injury.
July 17, 2022; Phoenix, Ariz., U.S.; Phoenix Mercury guard Diamond DeShields (1) cheers her team on from the bench during the second half against the Atlanta Dream at Footprint Center. DeShields is sitting the game out due to a hip injury.

The Mercury have not been able to collect a win on their three-game road trip yet, but the playoff hopes remain alive.

Sitting at the seventh seed, the Mercury’s 87-63 loss to the Connecticut Sun didn’t damage their position. The Dallas Wings (14-16) are trending upward at the sixth seed after defeating the Chicago Sky on Tuesday, while the New York Liberty moved up to No. 8 after defeating the Los Angeles Sparks that night. The Liberty have won their last two games, including Sunday’s matchup with the Mercury. The Mercury will meet the Liberty again to close out the season series on Saturday at Footprint Center.

With the Sun (21-10) on Thursday at 4 p.m. to conclude its road portion of the season, the Mercury hope to make the right adjustments from Tuesday’s game against the Sun and gain more control over their playoff destiny.

“I think just building on some of the positives from (Tuesday) and making some adjustments based on what Connecticut likes to do and being ready to battle. Anytime you play Connecticut, you know it’s going to be a tremendously physical game. Our players really matched that physicality (on Tuesday),” Mercury head coach Vanessa Nygaard said after Tuesday’s loss.

The fight was soured for the Mercury during the second quarter when Diana Taurasi exited the game after showing signs of discomfort on the bench. She played over 11 minutes and grabbed five rebounds and one assist. Taurasi remains questionable for Thursday and is dealing with a right quad issue.

“This is the next thing,” Nygaard said. “Dee has been in every game for us this season and losing her in that quarter and trying to figure that out for the rest of the game was a struggle, but I was very happy with the team’s fight. I know the score didn’t reflect it, but we had a lot of balls that seemed to go halfway down and pop right back up. The team continued to fight throughout.”

Losing a starter this season isn’t anything new for the Mercury, but the team will gain a valuable presence in Diamond DeShields. DeShields missed the last five games with a left hip injury and will add some critical minutes to the bench.

After going scoreless against the Liberty on Sunday, the bench contributed more in the last game with 10 points. If Taurasi is ruled out, DeShields will certainly help ease the pressure whether she is slotted in the starting five or is the first player off the bench. DeShields has averaged 12.5 points and has been crashing the boards more with 3.9 rebounds per game.

After Thursday’s game in Connecticut, the Mercury will return for a four-game homestand to conclude the season and try to clinch a playoff berth.

July 7, 2022;  Phoenix, Arizona; USA; Mercury forward Sophie Cunningham (9) shoots a three-pointer against Liberty during a game at the Footprint Center.
July 7, 2022; Phoenix, Arizona; USA; Mercury forward Sophie Cunningham (9) shoots a three-pointer against Liberty during a game at the Footprint Center.

Mercury to play final road games of regular season at Connecticut Sun

Although the New York Liberty spoiled the first game of the Phoenix Mercury’s final road trip, the Mercury will have to regroup for back-to-back games at the Connecticut Sun beginning Tuesday at 4 p.m.

Despite 11 assists from Skylar Diggins-Smith, 12 rebounds from Shey Peddy, and 21 points from Sophie Cunningham, the starting five needed more help in the opening game on the road.

Playing without Diamond DeShields, who has missed the last four games with a hip injury, has been a challenge for the bench. In Sunday’s game, the bench was scoreless and all 69 points came from the starting five.

The Sun (20-10) currently sits as the third seed in the playoffs and has not shown signs of coasting since clinching a playoff berth. Since the All-Star break, the Sun’s only losses came to the two teams ahead, the Las Vegas Aces and Chicago Sky.

An unfortunate loss for the Sun was learning that Bria Hartley is out for the season due to an ACL injury sustained on July 24. Hartley helped on the bench in her three games with the Sun.

The Sun continues to rely on its post depth with DeWanna Bonner scoring 23 points in Sunday’s loss to the Sky. Bonner has averaged 14.6 points and 7.0 rebounds in the last five games.

Sunday’s loss didn’t harm the Mercury’s playoff hopes with the Mercury moving down to the seventh seed. However, the Mercury (13-17) have a smaller window left with six games remaining.

Tuesday will have another important slate of games to watch for the playoff race. The Dallas Wings were bumped to the sixth seed following the Mercury’s loss and will play in Chicago against the Sky at 6 p.m. The current eighth-seeded Los Angeles Sparks will play in New York against the Liberty at 4 p.m.

Phoenix enters final road trip in WNBA playoff position

With only three road games left, the Phoenix Mercury (13-16) hold the fewest road games remaining and will have to take advantage of their East Coast swing.

Up first, the Mercury will face the New York Liberty (10-17), a team still in the postseason hunt with an outside shot at No. 10. The Mercury will head to New York for an 11 a.m. matchup on Sunday.

Chances for the Liberty making the playoffs didn’t look too promising with a five-game losing streak, but the Liberty snapped it in a massive upset over the Chicago Sky on July 23. Sabrina Ionescu led starters with 17 points and Natasha Howard posted a double-double with 16 points and 10 rebounds. The bench made a difference with 32 points spread between four players.

The Mercury have been rolling with small-ball style with three wins in their last five games. Against the Los Angeles Sparks in their last win, the Mercury survived Skylar Diggins-Smith's ejection in the fourth quarter and showed depth to hold a dominant lead.

Diggins-Smith is on a stellar campaign this season and is averaging 26.4 points and seven assists in the last five games.

Diana Taurasi continues to play some of her best basketball and became the first WNBA player to score 30 or more at age 40 or older in a win Thursday. In basketball history, only Michael Jordan and Dirk Nowitzki have scored more than 30 points in a game after turning 40. Taurasi’s five 3-pointers in the game marked the eighth time she’s hit five or more 3-pointers in a game this season.

The Mercury are in sixth place in the WNBA standings and will face the playoff-bound Connecticut Sun twice after the Liberty.

Diggins-Smith named Western Conference Player of the Week

July 7, 2022;  Phoenix, Arizona; USA; Mercury guard Skylar Diggins-Smith (4) drives against Liberty guard DiDi Richards (2) during a game at the Footprint Center.
July 7, 2022; Phoenix, Arizona; USA; Mercury guard Skylar Diggins-Smith (4) drives against Liberty guard DiDi Richards (2) during a game at the Footprint Center.

Mercury guard Skylar Diggins-Smith was named Western Conference Player of the Week by the WNBA on Monday.

Diggins-Smith averaged 23.3 points, 7.7 assists, 5.7 rebounds and 2.3 steals in the three-game span. On July 12 at Minnesota, Diggins-Smith paced the Mercury in the triple-overtime game. She recorded her 10th career double-double with a season-high 32 points and 10 assists, along with six rebounds, a career-high five offensive boards, three steals and two blocks.

She currently is ranked fourth in the league with an average of 19.4 points and is third in the league in steals with 1.8.

Diggins-Smith is also nominated for an ESPY for the top WNBA player. Diggins-Smith joins Connecticut Sun forward Jonquel Jones, Minnesota Lynx forward Sylvia Fowles, and Chicago Sky forward Candace Parker.

The Mercury return to the court on Friday against the Seattle Storm at Footprint Center at 7 p.m.

Phoenix looks toward four-game homestand after loss to Minnesota Lynx

After returning from a Tuesday game in Minneapolis, the Phoenix Mercury will start a four-game homestand at Footprint Center on Thursday at 7 p.m.

The Mercury (10-15) lost their first game out of the All-Star break to the Minnesota Lynx, 118-107, in double overtime.

Sophie Cunningham had a career-high 36 points in the loss, and Skylar Diggins-Smith contributed a double-double with a season-high 32 points and 10 assists.  Phoenix has now lost five straight games to the Lynx.

The Mercury, at a .400 winning percentage, are still in the playoff picture. The top eight teams based on winning percentage make the playoffs, and Phoenix is ninth.

Now, Phoenix will turn its attention to the Washington Mystics (15-10). The Mercury and Mystics played back-to-back games on June 12 and 14, splitting the series. Phoenix won, 99-90, in overtime on June 12, while Washington won, 85-63, on June 14. The Mystics are firmly in the playoffs with the fifth-best winning percentage in the league.

Ariel Atkins leads the Mystics with 14.8 points per game, with Shakira Austin contributing 6.2 rebounds and Natasha Cloud providing 7.2 assists.

—Chloe Peterson

Phoenix returns from All-Star break with matchup at Minnesota Lynx

Jun 21, 2022; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Phoenix Mercury guard Skylar Diggins-Smith (4) jumps to shoot against the Minnesota Lynx at Footprint Center.
Jun 21, 2022; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Phoenix Mercury guard Skylar Diggins-Smith (4) jumps to shoot against the Minnesota Lynx at Footprint Center.

The Mercury return from the WNBA All-Star break with a road matchup at Minnesota at 5 p.m. Tuesday. Both teams are past the halfway point of the 36-game season, but the Mercury (10-14) still have more to prove following the break. Phoenix has lost its last four games to the Lynx dating back to last season. Both teams will play again Aug. 10 in Phoenix.

The Lynx (8-15) are back at full strength with only Napheesa Collier out on maternity leave. Center Sylvia Fowles didn’t miss a beat since returning from injury on June 23, averaging 7.0 rebounds and 11.7 points in the last six games. Guard Aerial Powers was named Western Conference Player of the Week before the break and has been leading the Lynx. Powers has averaged 16.7 points and 5.5 rebounds in the last six games.

Before the break, Mercury picked up a good win over a young, talented New York Liberty team. Sophie Cunningham had a big first quarter with 17 points and then carried it over to set a career-high with 23 points at Phoenix won 84-81.

Mercury take on Liberty in final game before All-Star break

The Phoenix Mercury will take on former coach Sandy Brondello and the New York Liberty on Thursday night at 7 p.m. in their last game before the All-Star break.

Brondello coached the Mercury from 2013-21 and led Phoenix to a WNBA Finals runner-up appearance last season. The Mercury did not renew her contract after the 2021 season, and she was hired by the Liberty in January 2022.

“I’m hopeful they’ll be very motivated,” Mercury head coach Vanessa Nygaard said on July 4 of Brondello returning to the Footprint Center. “Sandy is a friend of mine, and it’ll be nice to see her and say hello. The players who played under her played for a long time, and so I always think there’s motivation going against a former coach.”

The Mercury (9-14) are currently on a two-game losing streak, dropping road contests to the Chicago Sky and Los Angeles Sparks on July 2 and 4, respectively. Phoenix is fifth in the WNBA Western Conference, only ahead of Minnesota. The New York Liberty (8-12) are fifth in the Eastern Conference.

Phoenix’s undersized roster will have to go up against Han Xu, New York’s 6-foot-10 center. Xu is averaging 9.6 points and 4.1 rebounds per game.

With the Mercury agreeing to a contract divorce with Tina Charles and Brittney Griner detained in Russia, Phoenix’s starting center is 6-foot-3 Brianna Turner.

“I think it’s tough too, with matchups not having a lot of depth at the post position,” Nygaard said. “We have to be very reactive to the other team, and maybe play different personnel based on the team.”

Guard Sabrina Ionescu is leading the Liberty with 16.5 points, 7.2 rebounds, and 6.3 assists per game.

After Thursday’s game, the Mercury won’t play again until July 12 against the Minnesota Lynx in Minneapolis. Skylar Diggins-Smith is the only active Mercury player who made the All-Star roster. The All-Star Game is on Sunday, July 10 at Wintrust Arena in Chicago.

For the rest of her players, Nygaard sees the All-Star break as a welcome rest and reset.

“Being an All-Star is a tremendous honor, and I’m really happy for Sky to get that opportunity” Nygaard said. “I don’t think that can take away from anybody’s [reset] to play in that game. But for our other players, who we’ve had a really frontloaded schedule with a lot of games every other night, we have less games in the schedule here coming up, so it’ll be a change for us to rejuvenate, to get a little bit of rest, to get some time away.”

— Chloe Peterson

Mercury head to Los Angeles for final road game before All-Star break

Jun 21, 2022; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Phoenix Mercury forward Brianna Turner (21) looks for an open teammate at Footprint Center.
Jun 21, 2022; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Phoenix Mercury forward Brianna Turner (21) looks for an open teammate at Footprint Center.

The Phoenix Mercury’s smaller roster will face another test with the Los Angeles Sparks on the road.

Monday’s matchup at 4 p.m. will have similarities to the previous meeting that the Mercury won at home with Brianna Turner playing at center. Turner had nine points with nine rebounds and matches up well against the Sparks.

The Mercury have since added the physical play of forward Reshanda Gray off the bench. Gray had her best game since joining the Mercury on July 1 with 11 points and two rebounds.

More: ‘She’s a bruiser:’ Newly signed Reshanda Gray bringing physicality to Phoenix Mercury

Despite being the home team, the Sparks will be on the second game of a back-to-back following Sunday's game with the New York Liberty. The Sparks (8-11) have changed since early June when the Mercury had the advantage. Without Derek Fisher at the helm, the Sparks have gone 3-4 under interim coach Fred Williams.

Forward Nneka Ogwumike has led the Sparks in the seven-game stretch with 18.9 points and 6.7 rebounds. Forward Katie Lou Samuelson has seen more production with 11.3 points. Liz Cambage has averaged 7.9 rebounds and 1.4 blocks.

The Sparks have played without guard Brittney Sykes’ defense. She's been out since July 1 due to health and safety protocols.

Following Monday’s game, the Mercury will return home to play the Liberty on Thursday before the WNBA All-Star break.

Jun 21, 2022; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Phoenix Mercury guard Skylar Diggins-Smith (4) jumps and catches a rebound at Footprint Center.
Jun 21, 2022; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Phoenix Mercury guard Skylar Diggins-Smith (4) jumps and catches a rebound at Footprint Center.

Skylar Diggins-Smith named reserve in WNBA All-Star Game

Mercury guard Skylar Diggins-Smith earned a spot in this year’s WNBA All-Star Game, the league announced Tuesday.

Diggins-Smith, who ranks fourth in scoring amongst guards, was left off the starting lineup. She ranked fourth in fan voting for the All-Star game starters and third in voting from the media, but finished 14th in the voting done by WNBA players.

More: WNBA All-Star Game voting slammed after snub of Phoenix Mercury's Skylar Diggins-Smith

However, Diggins-Smith will represent the Mercury with her sixth appearance. She is one of only two players this season averaging over 18 points, five assists, and three rebounds. Her 18.8 points per game are the most in her career since 2014.

Mercury center Brittney Griner was previously named an honorary starter due to her wrongful detainment in Russia.

Throughout the season, Diggins-Smith has been a key player for the Mercury with 34.1 minutes per game. In Monday’s game against the Indiana Fever, Diggins-Smith played a sizable role on offense with 17 points and four assists.

The Mercury have won two of its last three games and will play the second of a back-to-back series with the Indiana Fever at Footprint Center on Wednesday at 7 p.m.

The WNBA All-Star Game will take place on Sunday, July 10 in Chicago and will be broadcast at 11 a.m. on ABC.

Mercury return home to host Indiana Fever after shorthanded road trip

It’s been an eventful time for the Phoenix Mercury.

With only eight available players, the Mercury defeated the Dallas Wings 83-72 on Saturday.

“I thought it was a super gritty win for our team in a shorthanded situation on the road after a bunch of games and in a situation where not many things are in our favor over the course of a couple games. I was excited to see us hold a team to 11 (points) in the fourth quarter, that was really great defense,” Mercury head coach Vanessa Nygaard said.

Mercury guard Skylar Diggins-Smith continued her torrid pace in June with 26 points. Diggins-Smith has averaged 20.6 points and 5.4 assists per game in the last 10 games.

Hours before tip-off, it was announced that center Tina Charles parted ways with the Mercury in a contract divorce. Charles signed a one-year deal with the Mercury in February and became the team’s No. 1 center after Brittney Griner was wrongfully detained in Russia.

Charles is reportedly set to sign with the Seattle Storm.

Finding scoring off the bench has been a concern for the Mercury this season, but Diamond DeShields overcame the shorter rotations and had a stellar game. DeShields sparked the Mercury with 16 points and 10 rebounds for her first double-double of the season.

"What you saw is a bunch of pros show up and do their jobs. It was really a great thing and also to show the potential that we have as a group. Eight people in the room to do that and fight like that is a great thing to do and a little relief for some of the adversity we've been going through," Nygaard said.

The Mercury return to Footprint Center on Monday at 7 p.m. to face the Indiana Fever (5-14).

The Fever lost to the Mercury in the last meeting on June 15 and have gone 1-1 since. The Fever haven’t played since Thursday’s loss to the Wings.

Mercury agree to contract divorce with center Tina Charles

The Phoenix Mercury announced Saturday that the team has terminated center Tina Charles’ contract.

Charles signed a one-year deal with the Mercury as a free agent with $108,000 guaranteed.

“After discussions with Tina and her agent, it was best for both parties to go our separate ways at this time. Due to circumstances both in and out of our control, our season has not gone according to our plan, and we will continue to pursue all avenues for improvement,” Mercury general manager Jim Pitman said in a statement.

The 11-year veteran ranked second on the team in scoring (17.3 points per game) and rebounding (7.3 rebounds per game). Charles averaged 33.1 minutes and was an asset to the frontcourt.

The Mercury are set to play at Dallas at 5 p.m. on Saturday.

Mercury hoping to snap three-game skid in Dallas

The Phoenix Mercury (6-12) will hope to end its three-game losing skid in the conclusion of its road trip in Dallas on Saturday at 5 p.m.

Thursday’s loss against the Minnesota Lynx saw all five Mercury starters playing 30 minutes or more. Shey Peddy started over Diamond DeShields and scored 12 points. DeShields played nearly 20 minutes off the bench and added six points and three rebounds.

Mercury wing Sophie Cunningham returned after missing the last six games with an elbow injury. Cunningham played for nearly 15 minutes and scored five points.

The Wings have won both meetings with the Mercury this season. Since the last meeting on June 17, the Wings have gone 3-1.

Wings guard Arike Ogunbowale is third in the WNBA with 19.2 points per game and has made a league-leading 57 3-pointers. The Wings are the best 3-point shooting team in the league with 166.

The Mercury will return to Footprint Center on Monday to host the Indiana Fever.

Mercury heads to Minneapolis to face Lynx for second-straight matchup

The Phoenix Mercury will have a short turnaround from Tuesday’s loss to the Minnesota Lynx with a meeting in Minneapolis on Thursday at 5 p.m.

The Lynx bench contributed 32 points and snapped a five-game losing streak.

"If there’s something about Minnesota is that they are very disciplined. Cheryl Reeve has always done a great job ever since she has been within that organization,” Mercury center Tina Charles said after the game. “Regardless of what the score is, regardless of how many seconds are on the clock, they are very consistent in who they are so, for us we have to bring our effort, we have to punch first which we did in the first quarter but we can't let a couple of turnovers take us away from the game.”

The Mercury committed 16 turnovers and shot 39.7% from the field.

“We have to come back to our foundation, who we are and what our identity is and that is something we are looking to find on a consistent basis,” Charles said.

Phoenix wraps up road trip on Friday night at Dallas Wings

The Phoenix Mercury (6-9) conclude their four-game road trip at the Dallas Wings (6-8) at 5 p.m. on Friday.

Mercury center Tina Charles scored 29 points on Wednesday in a 93-80 win at the Indiana Fever, becoming the WNBA’s fifth all-time leading scorer with 6,829 points.

The Mercury have won four of their last five games, while the Wings have dropped its last four. Dallas won the first meeting of the season May 19 in Phoenix, 94-84.

Phoenix to face young Fever team

The Mercury will follow up their Tuesday meeting at Washington with a game at the Indiana Fever at 4 p.m. Wednesday. It’s been a learning curve for the Fever (4-12) this season, as Indiana has six rookies on the roster and, on Tuesday, added rookie guard Khayla Pointer.

The Fever, which snapped a five-game losing skid on Sunday in an 84-80 win over Minnesota, also include NaLyssa Smith, the No. 2 overall selection in this year’s draft. Smith leads the team in rebounding with 8.3 per game. Veteran guard Kelsey Mitchell leads Indiana in scoring, 18.8 points per game.

The game can be viewed on Bally Sports Extra.

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This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Phoenix Mercury: Diana Taurasi out for remainder of season