Mercury: Skylar Diggins-Smith absence not related to disagreement with Diana Taurasi

Skylar Diggins-Smith, left, and Diana Taurasi celebrated after Game 5 of the 2021 WNBA Playoffs semifinals, but Tuesday appeared less cordial after an argument on the bench was caught by cameras and circulated on social meda. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

PHOENIX – Despite the bench disagreement with teammate Diana Taurasi during a recent loss in Las Vegas, Mercury guard Skylar Diggins-Smith missed Thursday night’s home loss against Dallas due to a non-COVID 19 illness, the team said.

Diggins-Smith and Taurasi had to be separated by teammates after Diggins-Smith stood up from the bench and approached Taurasi late in the second quarter on Tuesday night. After a heated confrontation with Diggins-Smith while seated, Taurasi stood up from her seat and the two players quickly got into each other’s faces before they were separated by teammates.

Diggins-Smith tweeted out Monday night that, “Traveling/playing like this … getting sick is inevitable.”

Before Thursday’s contest, Mercury coach Vanessa Nygaard confirmed Diggins-Smith’s illness and said the Mercury have been battling health issues all season, as the WNBA continues to travel via commercial airlines instead of flying private during the ongoing pandemic.

“It’s kinda been going through our team a little bit here,” Nygaard said about the illnesses. “Tina (Charles) had a little bit of sickness in Seattle. (She) wasn’t quite herself up there but was able to make some big plays for us in that game. It’s kinda been going through our staff. We have quite a few staff members out at this point and (we’re) just trying to mask up and be safe and hopefully (Diggins-Smith) is starting to feel better. When I spoke to her today she did not sound good.”

After the game, Nygaard said she hopes to have Diggins-Smith back on Saturday against Las Vegas.

The Mercury, who are 2-3 on the season, begin a four-game road trip this weekend. Before losing to the Wings Thursday, Nygaard’s group lost to Las Vegas twice and beat Seattle twice. The Mercury will travel to Las Vegas for already the second time this week to begin their roadtrip.

“We have players out, staff, trainers, coaches, you know, it’s the situation that we are in,” Taurasi said after Thursday’s 94-84 home loss against Dallas. “We find ourselves always in these conditions that are tough. We are in these airports that obviously in the summer are crowded, people go on vacation. … We go to Vegas tomorrow, there are thousands of people in the casino. You just have to be as safe as possible with the conditions the way they are.”

After the game against the Aces, the Mercury will play the Sparks before traveling from Los Angeles to Atlanta to face off against the Dream.

When walking out of the media room, Nygaard jokingly said, “The LA to Atlanta flight is on Southwest y’all.”

“It’s unfortunate that we have to travel this way because it really does take a toll on you physically, and now your health is at risk for you and your family,” Taurasi said in Thursday’s postgame press conference. Taurasi and her wife have two young children at home after welcoming their second child last October. “It’s a shame that we are still talking about this 25 years later when there’s big pockets out there that could change this thing, but you know, we’re just women.”

After Saturday’s noon matinee against the Aces, the Mercury play the Los Angeles Sparks Wednesday, the Atlanta Dream Sunday, May 29 and the Chicago Sky May 31, before returning home to face off against the Connecticut Sun June 3.

David Veenstra(he/him/his)
Sports Reporter, Phoenix

David Veenstra expects to graduate in August 2022 with a master’s degree in sports journalism. Veenstra has covered ASU track and field for Inferno Intel.