The WNBA suspended five players for their parts in a fourth-quarter altercation in Saturday night's game between the Phoenix Mercury and Dallas Wings, with the league's leading scorer, Brittney Griner, drawing a three-game ban.
While jostling for position in the paint with 6:25 left in the game, Wings rookie Kristine Anigwe appeared to hit Griner in the face. The Mercury center then chased her opponent down the court, swinging fists despite the intervention of the referees.
Griner's suspension is for throwing punches, escalating the incident, and pushing Wings forward Kayla Thornton in the face.
Anigwe was suspended for two games for instigating and escalating the altercation and taking an open-handed swing at Griner. Thornton was suspended two games for escalation.
For leaving the bench, Mercury star Diana Taurasi received a one-game suspension plus a $500 fine. As she is currently injured, Taurasi will serve her suspension once medically cleared to return.
Wings forward Kaela Davis received the same punishment as Taurasi for leaving the bench, but her suspension will be delayed until Aug. 18. WNBA rules require each team to field eight active players per game, which would otherwise be impossible due to Anigwe and Thornton's suspensions and injuries to Tayler Hill and Azura Stevens.
Mercury forward DeWanna Bonner was fined $500 for escalating the incident but not suspended.
Griner's absence stands to have the biggest impact on Phoenix's postseason aspirations. With 19.4 points, seven rebounds, 2.3 assists, and two blocks per game, the 28-year-old has shouldered much of the burden on both ends of the floor, helping compensate for Taurasi's season-long battles with injury. With 11 games remaining, the 11-12 Mercury have some work to do to ensure a playoff berth.
The Griner suspension could affect the Mercury's long-term outlook as well. Before the WNBA announced its disciplinary decisions on the incident, the six-time All-Star voiced her displeasure with what she perceives as uneven officiating at her expense. Griner, who is in the final year of her current contract, suggested the fallout from Saturday's altercation could impact her decision to continue playing stateside.
"How they handle this will determine a lot about the future," Griner said, according to the Arizona Republic's Jeff Metcalfe. "Because how can I fight for some league that doesn't even want to protect their players?"