The crowd at US Airways Center had been waiting to see Brittney Griner in action ever since the WNBA Finals last September, and the 6-foot-8 center delivered with 23 points, eight rebounds and four blocks in the Phoenix Mercury’s 85-78 win over the San Antonio Stars Tuesday. Following a seven-game suspension, Griner returned to the lineup in Saturday’s 71-56 loss at Minnesota, scoring 14 with 11 rebounds and two blocks, and she immediately found the bottom of the rim on Tuesday’s first possession.
“We were pumped and wanted to start building from this win,” Griner said. “We let defense create offense and moving the ball, everybody was just playing really well together. I was calmer (than the Lynx loss), just the chemistry was really well tonight, we played as a unit.”
The Mercury (4-5) shot 78 percent in the first quarter (11-of-14), going on an 11-2 run for a 28-17 lead, with Candice Dupree scoring 11 (four-of-four). The Stars (2-7) brought the lead down to five with a Kayla McBride three six minutes into the second quarter, but Phoenix led 43-32 at the half. The lead remained at 11, 69-58 after the third, as Griner scored 11 and the original Baylor Final Four Most Outstanding Player, Sophia Young-Malcolm, had eight. McBride narrowed it to, 77-73, with three and a half to play, then knocked down a three to cut it to 81-76. Danielle Robinson lessened it to 81-78, and just as the arena fell silent, Griner grabbed her own rebound and scored. Dupree hit a jumper with the shot clock winding down to ice it with 25 seconds, 85-78, and the Mercury’s 59.6 percent field-goal percentage for the night was the fifth-highest in team history.
“We need to do this consistently,” Mercury coach Sandy Brondello said. “She’ll (Griner) get better in the system with the new players we have. She’s a game changer, she really protected the paint for us, and that’s something we struggled with the first seven games.”
Phoenix guard Leilani Mitchell finished with 16 (4-of-5 from the three-point line), Dupree scored 19 on 8-of-10 shooting, and DeWanna Bonner scored 13 and dished a career-high-tying seven assists.
“It was an overall great game tonight,” said Bonner, who passed Jennifer Gillom for third place on the franchise’s career scoring list with a layup in the third quarter.”I love it here, this is my home, and to beat on that list is just amazing, there’s some great people on that list.”
Young-Malcolm and McBride tied with 18 points for the Stars, Danielle Adams scored 12, and Sydney Colson had eight assists with nine points. San Antonio’s second-leading scorer Jia Perkins (13 ppg) sat out with a calf injury, and head coach Dan Hughes discussed the disparity between playing a non-Griner Phoenix lineup and one with her.
“Players had to play different roles,” Hughes said. “They fought through it, we just needed to make a couple of plays late, and it took a lot of effort to get back in it. It’s like the Beatles without Paul McCartney, it’s a big difference on both ends.”
The Mercury will host the WNBA-leading Tulsa Shock (8-1) at 7 p.m. Thursday, and the Stars are at the Sparks the same evening.