Shorthanded Wings fall flat in fourth quarter as offense stalls against Mercury

ARLINGTON — The discussion heading into Saturday’s game between the Wings and the Mercury was all about who was no longer playing for Phoenix.

The difference in the game was not who the Mercury released, but who was unavailable for Dallas.

All-Star candidate Allisha Gray sat out with an ankle injury as the Wings missed her deeply on both sides of the ball.

Dallas’ offense fell apart as the game went on, scoring only 11 points in the fourth quarter as Phoenix left the College Park Center with an 83-72 win.

Phoenix was shorthanded with only eight active players due to Brittany Griner’s detainment in Russia, Kia Nurse’s knee injury and Saturday’s “contract divorce” with Tina Charles.

Charles and the team mutually agreed to part ways, a decision Mercury coach Vanessa Nygaard called “best for both parties.” The former WNBA MVP had 27 points and nine rebounds in the last matchup between the Wings and the Mercury.

Without Griner and Charles, Phoenix had only one center, one forward and one guard-forward listed on their roster Saturday.

Vickie Johnson said pregame Charles departure — which was announced after their shootaround had wrapped up this morning — would not change their gameplan. The Wings started with a big frontcourt of Kayla Thornton, Isabelle Harrison and Teaira McCowan.

Even with Charles in the lineup last Friday, Dallas dominated in the interior as Harrison and McCowan combined for 34 points. The two also controlled the paint Thursday against the Fever. The decision to have both start was a reaction to those performances in combination with Gray’s absence and Phoenix’s lack of size.

Dallas was bigger at all five spots on the floor to start the game but the first few minutes were haphazard on both sides. The Wings starters had never played as a group before Saturday, and that was clear as Dallas’ struggled to get into a flow on offense.

After the first media timeout, Johnson mixed up the lineups and the Wings found their rhythm through a different way on entering the paint: attacking the interior off the dribble. Arike Ogunbowale, Veronica Burton and Ty Harris all got to the basket for layups or floaters as Dallas went up 23-13 after one quarter.

Gray’s absence could really be felt the rest of the way as Dallas missed her consistency on both sides of the basketball. The disappearance of her catch-and-shoot ability and wing defense  — two skills she brings every game — from the team’s play were particularly noticeable as the game progressed.

Phoenix really pushed the pace in the second quarter, whether it came off a missed basket or in transition.

Dallas Wings guard Arike Ogunbowale (24) moves the ball up the court against Phoenix Mercury...

1/10Dallas Wings guard Arike Ogunbowale (24) moves the ball up the court against Phoenix Mercury guard Shey Peddy (11) during the first half of a WNBA basketball game in Arlington, Texas on Saturday, July 25, 2022.
(Michael Ainsworth / Special Contributor)

Dallas struggled to adapt and was caught a step behind more than once as the Mercury exploded for 31 points on 68% shooting. Skylar Diggins-Smith had 11 points and Sophie Cunningham added 10 in the quarter as the Mercury shrunk the Wings’ lead to 45-44 at the half.

The game as a whole was chippy and physical but the intensity seemed to dial up in the third quarters. In just the final four-plus minutes of the quarter, seven personal fouls were called on both teams.

But Dallas didn’t take advantage of the fouls, shooting 1-for-7 from the free throw line in the quarter. The Wings shot only 47.6% from the charity stripe for the game, by far a season low.

Phoenix held a 64-61 lead after three quarters and kept Dallas at a slight distance in the fourth quarter, despite the fight of Ogunbowale. But the Wings offense could not get anything going in the fourth quarter.

The Mercury, on the other hand, found an extra gear as Diggins-Smith scored nine points in the final frame to push Phoenix over the edge.


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