MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Brittney Griner stepped onto the court for the first time this season, starting the process of putting her domestic violence arrest behind her for good.
In some ways, the Minnesota Lynx feel like they made their season debuts on Saturday night as well.
Griner had 14 points and 11 rebounds in her first game back from a seven-game suspension, but it wasn't enough as the Phoenix Mercury lost to the Lynx 71-56 on Saturday night behind Maya Moore's 21 points.
She was held to just four field goal attempts in the first three quarters. By the time she got going, it was too late. She scored eight points on five attempts in the fourth quarter, but the Mercury (3-5) were too far down to make a comeback.
"It's definitely good to be back on the court, being with the team," Griner said. "Got to get it together now."
Phoenix shot just 33 percent for the game and turned the ball over 20 times. DeWanna Bonner and Monique Currie combined to shoot 7 for 27.
Rebekkah Brunson had 14 points, 13 rebounds and three blocks and Lindsay Whalen scored 21 points for the Lynx (7-2).
"She can't score if she doesn't have the ball in her hands," Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve said of Griner. "So that was a concerted effort. And when she did have it, I thought our support was really good. We were kind of digging down, sitting in there and keeping her guessing. Once she gets deep it's really, really hard. But thankfully for us there weren't too many of those tonight."
Griner missed the first seven games of the season while serving her suspension for an altercation with then-fiancee Glory Johnson at their home in April. Griner pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct, agreeing to undergo 26 weeks of domestic violence counseling. If she completes it, the charges will be dismissed.
Griner married Johnson a few weeks after the incident, but a day after Johnson announced she was pregnant through in vitro fertilization, Griner said she was filing for an annulment. After so much drama, Griner was relieved to be restoring some normalcy to her life with her return to the court.
One of the league's highest profile players, Griner was back in the starting lineup Saturday night. But the Mercury had trouble reincorporating their star player against a hard-nosed Lynx defense.
"They're used to playing without me, and now I'm back," she said. "So they're going to have to get used to incorporate me in, but not take away from what they do. Don't look all the time, but know I'm there. That's all we have to do, get that chemistry of me being down there in the post."
Phoenix turned the ball over 11 times and shot just 24 percent to fall behind by 14 at the break, and Brunson led a swarming Lynx defense that limited her touches.
"She hasn't played in such a long time," Mercury coach Sandy Brondello said. "She had four people around her on nearly every single catch, and she couldn't really catch it at times. Second half was better for her. Got a little bit of rhythm. She rebounded well for us all night. But she really didn't get many open looks there. We have to do a better job of execution."
Even after six wins in their first eight games, the Lynx had yet to find that extra gear that made propelled them to two titles in three seasons. But they roared back from 18 points down to beat Seattle earlier this week and locked in defensively against the Mercury on Saturday night to give the Mercury their second straight loss.
"This was the best flow we've had all season," Whalen said.
As pleased as she was the defense and execution, Reeve left the game furious over an officiating mistake late in the fourth quarter. The Mercury intentionally fouled Devereaux Peters with 44.1 seconds to play.
Reeve said league rules allow the Lynx to choose any player they want to take the free throws in that case, but the officials made Peters take the shot before returning to the ball to Minnesota. Reeve said it was "just embarrassing" that the officials did not know the rule.
"If we get fined for things, I think they should get fined for things," Reeve said. "There's absolutely no doubt in my mind that that crew will be fined today because they botched the away-from-the-play foul."
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