The Phoenix Mercury will be without All-Star and WNBA leading scorer Brittney Griner for a critical game to their playoff hopes Wednesday night against the Connecticut Sun.
The league handed down a three-game suspension to Griner on Tuesday for her actions during a fight in the fourth quarter of Saturday's game against Dallas. Griner got tangled up with Wings center Kristine Anigwe going for a rebound and took multiple swings at Dallas players and chased a backpedaling Anigwe to midcourt before being restrained by teammates.
Anigwe and Wings teammate Kayla Thornton were given two-game suspensions, with the league detailing Griner's suspension "for throwing punches, escalating the incident, and pushing Thornton's face with an open hand."
For the 6-foot-9 Griner, who is averaging 19.4 points and also ranks 12th in rebounding at 7.0 per game, the suspension could go a long way in determining whether she continues her WNBA career. The star center, whose contract expires at the end of the season, also plays for UMMC Ekaterinburg in Russia during the offseason and commands a much higher salary than with the Mercury.
"I'm not doing it for the money because we don't make enough and they want to fine me for every little thing," Griner told the Arizona Republic on Monday. "I'm getting techs for protecting myself in games and flagrants because they always only see me. They never see anything beforehand. I'm basically not getting paid this summer already (due to fines).
"How they handle this will determine a lot about the future. Because how can I fight for some league that doesn't even want to protect their players?"
While not expected to play as she continues to recover from a back injury, Diana Taurasi also received a one-game suspension for coming off the bench to help defend Griner.
Phoenix (11-12) wound up losing 80-77, which reduced its lead for the eighth and final playoff spot over Indiana to three games with 11 remaining. The absence of Griner puts more pressure on fellow All-Star DeWanna Bonner and Leilani Mitchell to shoulder the offensive burden.
Though the Mercury have lost four of their last five, Mitchell has emerged as the third scorer they have needed without Taurasi and has averaged 21.2 points while shooting 55.6 percent (20 of 36) from 3-point range in that stretch.
As Phoenix scraps for one of the last playoff spots, Connecticut (16-8) is fighting for one of the top two places that offer a bye into the semifinals. The Sun are one game behind Washington for the lead and looking to avoid a third consecutive loss after an 89-81 defeat at Las Vegas on Sunday night.
Connecticut's bench helped cut a 13-point third-quarter deficit to three with 6:53 to play after a 3-pointer by Bria Holmes, but Las Vegas put the game out of reach with a 9-0 burst over the next 2:18. The Sun's reserves finished with 30 points, earning the praise of coach Curt Miller.
"We came up short tonight but they shot 50 percent from the 3-point line and just under 50 percent from the field," Miller told the team's official Twitter account. "They executed and really gave us a spark that we needed."
All-Star center Jonquel Jones could be the biggest beneficiary of Griner's likely absence as she looks to snap out of a three-game offensive funk. Jones, who is 10th in the league with 15.1 points per game, has totaled 30 on 7-of-28 shooting in her last three contests.
The Sun have won both games between the teams this year, including a 68-62 home win Aug. 1 when Courtney Williams scored 12 of her 14 points in the fourth quarter. Griner left that contest midway through the second quarter with an ankle injury, and Bonner paced Phoenix with 20 points and 10 rebounds.