NEW YORK -- This is just part of sports: A moment or two potentially can change the course of a team's season, and that's what the Washington Mystics and Phoenix Mercury are facing right now.
Both teams lost key players to injury in games Friday: Phoenix's Brittney Griner (knee, ankle) and Washington's Elena Delle Donne (ankle) and Tayler Hill (knee). Now those teams have to figure out how to contend without their stars. In Hill's case, that means for the rest of the season, as she's out with a torn ACL.
With the WNBA All-Star Game on Saturday in Seattle, everyone has fingers crossed that we've seen the worst of a difficult stretch of injuries this past week in the WNBA; among them, Indiana's Shenise Johnson is also lost for the season with an ACL tear.
Injuries put a damper on what was projected to be a marquee game Sunday at Madison Square Garden between the New York Liberty and the Mystics. Without leading scorers Delle Donne and Hill, the Mystics understandably appeared to be a shell of themselves. And the Liberty, after a disappointing loss to the Chicago Sky at home Friday, were ready to pounce.
The result: An 85-55 Liberty victory that New York really needed and Washington had to accept as practically inevitable. You don't lose a combined 32 points a game and recover from that just two days later.
For Hill, it was the worst news, as she won't return in 2017. For Delle Donne, it's an ankle sprain that will be re-evaluated on Monday. But let's be realistic: The leading vote-getter among Eastern Conference players isn't likely to make the trip to the All-Star Game now. A long flight to Seattle just to be present for an exhibition likely doesn't make sense, especially with Hill (13.3 PPG) out and even more weight on Delle Donne (18.7 PPG) to lead the Mystics.
Delle Donne missed the All-Star Game as a rookie in 2013 because of a concussion and in 2014 due to a flare-up of Lyme disease. She played in the 2015 All-Star Game; there was no game last year because of the Olympics.
"It's like my curse or something -- whenever All-Star comes around, I've got to get in a bubble," Delle Donne said. "It's frustrating. I don't know if the floor was sticky or what, but it was kind of like [my foot] caught and went on its own. I didn't step on anyone's foot or anything. It happens, and you've just got to push through and get better."
The same can be said of the Mystics: They have to gut their way through this. It's extremely disappointing for Hill, the No. 4 draft pick in 2013 behind Griner, Delle Donne and the Dallas Wings' Skylar Diggins. Hill had a decent rookie season, but then played just five games her second year in the league, as she had a baby. Her third year was about regaining some lost progress; and last year, she truly began to come into her own as a starter, averaging 15.4 points.
"We know she's a strong-willed person who will do the work that's necessary," Mystics coach Mike Thibault said. "From a team standpoint, we have to do some searching. We lose an attacker. Ivory Latta, Natasha Cloud and Shatori Walker-Kimbrough -- somebody's going to have to step up and say, 'I need those minutes.'"
Indeed, those Mystics guards -- along with Kristi Toliver -- have to combine to make up for Hill's absence.
"We have to rally together," said Toliver, who won the WNBA title with Los Angeles last year and came to Washington this season as a free agent. "It's never easy handling the loss of a good player and good teammate. But nobody is going to feel sorry for us. We have to move on. Like coach said, 'This is where you find out who you are, when heavy adversity hits.' And we're facing a lot of adversity in a short time."
With both Delle Donne (trade) and Toliver coming to Washington, the Mystics had legitimate postseason aspirations. At 11-9, they still have plenty of hope for the playoffs, but they'll have to do it without Hill while hoping Delle Donne is back soon.
"There's time to bounce back and get it together," Delle Donne said. "You can get on a streak and do something to shake up the league, so that's always a great thing to keep on your mind."
Meanwhile, Griner suffered a bone bruise in her left knee and sprain of her right ankle on Friday and will be out about a month. Sunday in an 81-66 loss at league-leading the Minnesota Lynx, the Mercury didn't have her or Diana Taurasi, who didn't make the trip and stayed home to rest, according to the team.
Griner went out while she was leading the league in scoring (22.3 PPG) and was being mentioned in MVP discussions (even if she wasn't elected as an All-Star starter). The Mercury (11-8) have been flummoxed by the Lynx puzzle; they've now lost 10 in a row to Minnesota. But last year, Phoenix rallied from a pedestrian regular season to make the WNBA semifinals.
At least the Mercury can look forward to Griner's return. And hopefully, for Washington, Phoenix and everyone else, there won't be any more major injuries. Because they really take their toll on teams and the league.