By: Kayla Mortellaro
Update Monday at 1:12 p.m.- The WNBA released a statement about the controversial foul call late in game two of the Western Conference Finals.
PHOENIX— Game two of the WNBA Western Conference Finals was all knotted up at 71 with 5.4 seconds to play in regulation between the Phoenix Mercury and the Minnesota Lynx. The Mercury had the ball with a chance to score and put themselves ahead, which would have forced a game three.
The ball was inbounded to Noelle Quinn, who tried to get the ball down-low to Brittney Griner, but Lynx forward Maya Moore stole the pass. Right after the interception with only 1.5 seconds to play, a foul was called on Quinn by referee Amy Bonner, sending Moore to the line for the chance to clinch the game and the Western Conference title.
Moore would hit one-of-two free throws to put the Lynx on top 72-71.
“Disbelief,” Brittney Griner said after the game. “I can’t believe that just happened. It’s just very frustrating for them to call a call like that at the end of the game. I don’t care, say whatever, it was a horrible [expletive] call.”
After Mercury players had the opportunity to see their final possession, forward Candice Dupree said the call was “amazing.”
“To decide a Western Conference Final game like that is pretty unbelievable,” Dupree said. “If anything, you let overtime decide it. I mean, I think both sides were stunned. Minnesota just kind of stood around like ‘what just happened?’ It’s crazy,” Dupree said.
Mercury guard Monique Currie added her thoughts to the referee’s decision to the blow the whistle.
“I think a referee would say, a foul is a foul, but in my opinion, there was no foul,” Currie said. “And in addition, she [referee Amy Bonner] decided the game. She made the difference in whether we would win or lose or been given the opportunity. But an imaginary foul was called in my opinion.”
Despite the foul controversy, the Lynx walked away from Talking Stick Resort Arena as winners, now reaching the WNBA Finals four of the last five years (2015, 2013, 2012, 2011).
Minnesota was led by Moore who dropped a playoff career-high 40 points on 13-of-29 shooting. Sylvia Fowles, Seimone Augustus, and Anna Cruz added eight points each on the afternoon.
“Just exactly what we expected, just a really, really great game,” Lynx head coach Cheryl Reeve said. “Either team hardly could get any separation. It’s unfortunate to have so many great players in foul trouble, you know, you want those players out there. Very fortunate that we stayed with it and made a huge defensive play. Maya Moore was just tremendous.”
Both teams found key players in foul trouble all game. For the Lynx, Moore was playing with five fouls, Rebekkah Brunson had four fouls, Fowles had three fouls. For the Mercury, DeWanna Bonner fouled out of the game with 38 seconds to play in regulation, and Griner ended the game with four fouls.
The Mercury had great contribution from their starters in the game. Dupree led the team with 16 points, Griner contributed 15 points, Currie added 14 points, seven rebounds, and six assists, and before fouling out, Bonner had 13 points.
“I think that was a great game against two great teams; it could have gone either way,” Mercury head coach Sandy Brondello said. “I disagree with the call at the end. Number one, it wasn’t a foul, so to make that big play, let the two best teams decide with the extra five minutes who wins the game. Obviously, we’re disappointed in our locker room at the moment. I’m very proud of the team. But Minnesota deserves the credit, they just know how to play in those big games too, they have a lot of veteran players and they just dig deeper when they need to.”
In front of a sell-out crowd of 9,871 fans at Talking Stick Resort Arena, the Mercury came to play with energy and will with their playoff hopes on the line.
“I would hope that everybody in this locker room feels like that (level of play rises in the playoffs), you got to leave it all out on the court,” Dupree said. “It’s the playoffs. Everybody is fighting for a championship and the fact that we were trying to be back-to-back champions; it’s what pushes you and motivates you.”
The Mercury made a valiant effort to defend their 2014 WNBA title. The team reached the playoffs, and the Western Conference Finals despite missing Diana Taurasi, Penny Taylor, and Griner for the first seven games of the season, as she was serving a suspension.
“That’s what I am most proud of, I mean, going into the season without Diana [Taurasi] and Penny [Taylor], people were writing us off right from the start. Jim [Pitman, Mercury GM] and I thought we did a good job of bringing in the right players that could compliment the players that we have. Understanding that there is no trading, it’s all about free agents, going out and getting free agents and hoping people want to sign here. And they do- the ones we wanted, wanted to sign here. That shows a lot about this organization and this team.”
With seven new players added the roster, the Mercury finished the 2015 regular season with a 20-14 record, their second-consecutive 20- win season. Phoenix earned the number two seed in the Western Conference. In the end, the team knows they have a lot to be proud of.
“Nobody expected us to be here [Western Conference Finals],” Dupree said. “I don’t even think people expected us to even make the playoffs. It just says a lot about how mentally tough we are as a group, how resilient we are. Proud of this group.”
In all, coach Brondello is disappointed with the outcome, but likes how her team came together over the course of the season.
“Especially this last month, you saw us playing to our potential more consistently,” Brondello said. “This is going to give us a great experience going into next season. You add two great players [Taurasi and Taylor] and top that out with the experience we’ve gained this year, and this is going to make us an even better team than what we were this year. That doesn’t mean winning, it means we are better, we still have to go out there and get the chemistry.
But I am proud of this team, they are very coachable, they worked hard, they [are] great people, great character people and very close. It’s a very emotional locker room because they care.”