If the Mercury don't make the WNBA playoffs, much of the blame will have to go to Katie Smith.
In what had to be considered a must-win for the Mercury, Minnesota's Smith scored 33 points as the Lynx beat Phoenix 63-60 before 6,567 Sunday night at America West Arena.
The game was important for several reasons. It extended to five games the Mercury's losing streak, a streak the Mercury figured they would snap Sunday night since it was their first home appearance after a grueling seven-game road trip.
Also, Minnesota is one of the teams the Mercury may have to catch to make the playoffs. With 14 games left, the Mercury are 8-12 while Minnesota is 12-9. Minnesota holds the tiebreaker over the Mercury because the Lynx beat them three of four times. Finally, the Mercury were looking for a little revenge after blowing a 20-point lead in a loss July 9 at Minnesota.
"It's a back-breaker," Mercury coach Carrie Graf said. "It's a tough loss to swallow.
"Of course it was a must-win. There's no question, that's what we talked about. It was a must-win that we didn't win."
Rookie point guard Diana Taurasi confirmed the players understood the magnitude of the game.
"We tried to treat this game as a must-win, and we just didn't get it done," said Taurasi, who scored 15 points but made only 6-of-15 shots. Penny Taylor led the Mercury with 20 points.
Smith took over the game late. With the Mercury clinging to a four-point lead with 4:13 left, the guard proceeded to hit back-to-back 3-pointers to give the Lynx a two-point lead. Smith also scored six points in the final minute as the Lynx held on for the victory.
"She's a world class player," Graf said of Smith. "She got away from us. We didn't defend her well as a team down the stretch and I think that was the game. She stepped up big. We didn't have an answer for her tonight."
After a poor start in which they fell behind by nine points early, the Mercury clamped down defensively. A 3-pointer by Anna DeForge with seven seconds left in the half gave the Mercury a 30-29 advantage at intermission.
The Mercury widened their lead to five points early in the second half but couldn't shake the Lynx, who stayed close until their final rally.
With her team obviously distraught, Graf said she has to find a cure for the team — immediately.
"The focus for us is to say, ‘How do we dig ourselves out of it?’ " Graf said. "We've got to try to find a way to minimize our errors during the course of the game and come up with a win.
"The thing that can happen in situations like this is we drop our bundle. We lose confidence and we start allocating blame. We can't do that."
BONUS SHOTS: The Mercury will play their second and final noon home game Wednesday when they take on San Antonio. The noon tipoff is designed to attract youngsters from Valley summer camps. . . . Australian guard Jae Cross was signed for the rest of the season Sunday. Cross had been on a 10-day contract. . . . Adrian Williams is back on the injured list with a sprained right knee.