By Sam Gordon
In a game in which 6-foot-8 Phoenix Mercury center Britney Griner blocked nine shots -- and altered several more -- one of the smallest players on the court made a big difference.
And for the first time in a couple of weeks, the Minnesota Lynx looked like what they've been all season: the best team in the Western Conference.
Even without Lindsay Whalen.
The all-star point guard left the game in the second quarter with a foot injury, and her understudy, 5-foot-7 Renee Montgomery, sparked a stagnant offense to lead first-place Minnesota to a 71-61 victory over the second-place Phoenix Mercury on Sunday night at Target Center.
The Lynx, who had lost four of their previous five games, lead the Mercury by three games in the Western Conference standings with four games to play.
But they might have to play those games without Whalen.
Minnesota coach Cheryl Reeve said Whalen has been battling discomfort in her Achilles' tendon and bursitis in her right heel. Reeve suggested Whalen sit out the rest of the regular season.
"It's concerning. It was already concerning going into the game," Reeve said. "She was trying to gut it out for us ... She'll probably be out for a little bit."
The backup point guard knocked down a few timely jumpers and weaved between Griner and Phoenix's sturdy defense to create shots for herself and her teammates down the stretch -- shots that weren't always available in the first three quarters.
The Lynx shot just 32.7 percent from the field, and Griner had a lot to do with that.
Her mere presence deterred Minnesota ball handlers from attacking the basket. But Minnesota generated enough offense late. Montgomery finished with 15 points. Maya Moore played all 40 minutes and scored a game-high 28 points on 9-of-28 shooting.
"I've kind of been waiting on this game, praying about it ... Like 'I just need one big game,' " Montgomery said. "It happened at a big moment when we really needed it."
Phoenix parlayed Griner's defensive dominance with crisp ball movement on offense to take a 39-34 halftime lead. Griner blocked four more shots in the third quarter, but the Lynx remained aggressive, especially in the fourth quarter, and pulled away in the final six minutes.
"It felt like we were very connected. Everybody was communicating, on the same page, locked in," Moore said. "Today was a great example of just playing hard ... while improving from mistakes."
Phoenix, which played its third game in four nights, shot 4 of 15 from the field in the fourth quarter.
Griner scored all 13 of her points in the first half. She finished with seven rebounds and nine blocks. Lynx center Sylvia Fowles had 14 points and 13 rebounds.