With about 1:25 left in the third quarter, Fever guard Shavonte Zellous drove for a layup and collided with Mercury forward DeWanna Bonner. The replays aren't exceptionally clear but as Zellous went up she can be seen swinging her left arm out which connects with Bonner across the face. The Fever were up 70 to 66 when the incident occurred.
DeWanna landed on her feet and immediately crumpled to the ground. She did not hit her head on the floor. She was moving at first and in the replay you can clearly see a point where she losses conciseness. She remained motionless for about 30 full seconds as the silent crowd looked on and my own nearly four-year-old daughter sitting in the stands with my family cried in fear.
The medical staff immobilized her head and strapped her to a backboard before taking her off the court on a stretcher. She was taken to a local hospital for evaluation. No further word on her condition has been received although she waived to the crowd while being wheeled off.
On the play, Bonner was called for a foul and Zellous for a technical foul. The two teams' coaches had much different opinions of what happened.
Coach Gaines could barely hide the disdain in his voice, "I thought it was an offensive foul with the elbow but the ref explained to me the 'correct' call which was, not a split second, a quarter of second, no faster than a quarter of a second, let's go a millennium of a second after she (Zellous) was fouled she put her arm out and got an offensive foul. So it was like, light speed."
Coach Dunn saw things a different way and only wanted to talk about the other incident in this game (which we will get to), "As far I was concerned there was only one incident. Zellous didn't do anything to Bonner. Bonner lost her balance and came down and hit her head.
"The reason I say that is I trust my player. I know Zellous. If she'd hit her she would have said, 'Coach, I hit her but I didn't mean to. Or coach, I threw the arm up but I didn't realize I was going to hit her'. She said, 'I did not touch her'. So I trust my players and that's all I'm going to go on that."
In watching the play numerous times, I think the official got the call right.
Bonner jumps and makes contact with her body and then Zellous swings her left arm out and connects with the side of Bonner's face. I was told that DeWanna had a gash on the inside of her upper lip. In the replay we can see her head snap to the side.
Coach Gaines obviously felt that it should have just been an offensive foul and Coach Dunn was frankly, just making things up since Bonner's head never came close to hitting the ground until well after she had been injured.
The official, as you can see in this image is in perfect position to see the play.
Of course, they easily could have just called Bonner for the foul and not called anything on Zellous. Calling her for the technical foul showed the official felt there was some intent. It is very difficult to judge a play like this from the camera angle.
If it was intentional, it certainly wasn't anything more than a player clearing space while in the air which is fairly common. Unfortunately, the elbow connects with Bonner at just the right place that it knocked her cold as you can see in this image.
At that point in the game, both teams were right in it. Neither had been able to get separation and Coach Gaines was saving his most effective line-up and formation for the fourth quarter. The Mercury have been closing games with Taurasi running point along with Taylor, Bonner, Smith and Dupree.
Unfortunately, the injury not only knocked out Bonner but it took the Mercury out of the game as well.
In the immediate minutes when play resumed the Mercury were clearly fired up and playing with an extremely high-level of passion and ferocity but that emotion wore of and they lost focus and let the game slip away.
"It stopped the game," Penny Taylor said about the incident. "I feel like we had them on the run a little bit. We had them tired."
Both Taylor and Coach Gaines agreed that there was also an emotional toll seeing a beloved teammate being taken off the court on a stretcher and having to play the game not knowing what her status is.
With just over three minutes to play and the Mercury down by 17 points, Taurasi appeared to take revenge on behalf of her teammate.
She drove to the basket and Fever center Jessica Davenport reached in and fouled Taurasi. While driving, Taursi fully extended her elbow and connected with Davenport's nose. Jessica was bleeding profusely and was taken out of the game.
Taurasi was called for a technical foul.
The replay of this incident is very clear as seen in this image.
After the game there was a scheduled charity auction which kept the Mercury players from being interviewed. I waited for the auction to end and was able to speak with Penny Taylor but was told that Taurasi was unavailable due to another engagement.
Note: Taylor's game-worn pink uniform and a pair of shoes sold for $7,000 while Taurasi's sold for $12,500. The money goes to the Susan G. Komen For The Cure Foundation.
It certainly seems that the team was trying to protect Diana by keeping her from answering questions about the incident which will surely be reviewed by the league. It appears to be an offense worthy of suspension but then again, Cappie Pondexter wasn't suspended for her blatant hit a few weeks ago despite being ejected from the game with a Flagrant Two.
Once again, the two coaches saw things differently.
Fever coach Lin Dunn, "I thought it was a flagrant foul. I thought it was unnecessary. I think anytime you throw that elbow up like that it needs to be called.
"I know what happens when players get frustrated when they're down but you just need to be careful that you don't hurt somebody. It's OK to play hard and physical but don't let your frustration cause you to do something you really regret doing and I think maybe, I'm just guessing, Diana was frustrated and she just took it out a little bit as she drove in for the layup."
Coach Gaines didn't see it that way. In fact, he didn't see much at all, "I was away from that one, I didn't see."
Although he did see this, "I thought she (Taurasi) got fouled. She got grabbed and then, you'll have to ask them. Too quick for me. I'm not that good. I don't have that skill."
This is what coaches do. They protect their players. I would expect nothing less from either one.
I was able to speak very briefly with Davenport in the Fever locker room. Her nose wasn't broken although it was swollen and she will have additional x-rays or scans to make sure there's no broken facial bones.
I asked her for her thoughts on the play and all should would say is, "They'll review it."
Tamika Catchings was a bit more diplomatic than her injured and angered teammate, "I think it's just one of those things that happens in the game. Definitely, I don't think either one was intentional."
But she did add this, "When she (Taurasi) goes up sometimes her elbows are out. She must have got up high because J-Dav (Davenport) is tall. Got her nose all the way up there."
These two teams play again on Friday in Indiana which leaves the possibility for carryover of feelings into that game.
Penny Taylor didn't think (or wouldn't admit) that there would be any, "I didn't see either of (the incidents) but you don't expect people to be intentionally smacking people in the face but it happens as we know. We've just got to try and avoid it as much as we can and I don't expect people to take it as intentional and carryover into other games. It was a tough game tonight. A lot of physical play. Those two (incidents) were just ones that happen to injure people."
Taylor, who had her own lip slip open by an elbow during last year's Finals series with the Fever, made another great point, "It's a physical game out there. I'm actually surprised more things like that don't happen."
Penny is correct. This is a physical sport and you've got bodies flying at each other and injuries like we saw tonight are possible. You only can hope that Zellous' elbow wasn't intentional as Taurasi's plainly was.
Up until the Bonner injury, this was a fantastic game played with playoff intensity and emotion. The Fever defense adjusted to the Mercury and were doing a fantastic job rotating on the pick and rolls. The Mercury weren't scoring on fast break points but they were wearing down the Fever and had a few fourth quarter tricks left up their sleeve.
It promised to be another fantastic finish, picking right up where the 2009 Finals series left off. Now we will wait and see if Bonner is able to play on Friday in Indiana and if the league has any punishment in store for Taurasi.
Game Photo Gallery. Photo's by Ryan Malone: