EVERETT, Wash. (AP) — DeWanna Bonner finished with 31 points, as the Mercury started a season where they will be without Diana Taurasi for a significant chunk after undergoing back surgery in late April.
Brittney Griner added 18 points as the Mercury fell 77-68 to the Seattle Storm.
“They know who is going to score for us and we need other people to be aggressive on offense and be more involved,” Phoenix coach Sandy Brondello said.
Natasha Howard had 21 points and 16 rebounds, while Jewell Loyd added 17 points for the shorthanded Seattle Storm, who is missing Sue Bird and Breanna Stewart.
“Don’t doubt us. Just don’t doubt us,” Howard said. “Even though we’re down two players with injury, don’t doubt us. Anything can happen this season.”
Beginning a season where they will play without Stewart, the reigning league MVP, for the entire season and Bird, an 11-time All-Star for a significant portion, the Storm rallied from an 11-point first half deficit to make sure celebrating last year’s title was capped with a victory.
With Bird sitting on the bench and Stewart a few feet away in a protective boot, Seattle’s two biggest stars were forced to be spectators and watched their teammates outscore Phoenix 40-25 in the middle two quarters and hold off the best efforts of Bonner to rally the Mercury. Bonner scored 15 straight points for Phoenix late in the third quarter and early in the fourth to pull the Mercury within 58-57. That’s as close as they would get as Seattle outscored Phoenix 19-11 over the final seven minutes.
Jordin Canada, starting for Bird, had eight of her 16 points in the fourth quarter for Seattle. Canada struggled with six turnovers in the first half. She had just one in the second half.
“The first half I was overthinking it too much, wasn’t playing with a lot of poise and patience,” Canada said. “The second half my coaches talk to me, my teammates talked to me about staying in the moment.”
Playing in one of two temporary home arenas, Seattle received its championship rings, unveiled a championship banner with the three years it has won the league title then got a sense of what it will take without Bird and Stewart on the floor.
Bird will soon undergo left knee surgery. She may be able to return at the end of the season depending on her recovery. Stewart is out the entire season after tearing her right Achilles tendon playing overseas. Stewart was placed on the suspended list by the Storm earlier this week to clear a roster spot, but the WNBA has made Stewart an ambassador and will pay her in excess of the roughly $65,000 base salary she would have made with the Storm.
Mercury: Phoenix hosts Las Vegas in its home opener next Friday.
Storm: Seattle travels to Minnesota on Wednesday.