Brittney Griner played in her first home game since returning from Russia Sunday afternoon at Footprint Center in Phoenix, moving into third place all-time in career WNBA blocks and scoring a game-high 27 points, including a rare 3-pointer that highlighted a day of gratitude for the Mercury’s X Factor fans.
The Mercury would lose 75-69 to the Chicago Sky, but Griner was the story. All the Mercury players were announced before the game in dramatic fashion, with Griner coming out last while “Coming Home” by Diddy and Skylar Grey was playing. After the third quarter, Griner admitted in an interview with ESPN’s Holly Rowe that she had been holding back tears during that ceremony.
Dana Evans made a straightaway bank-floater that gave Chicago (2-0) a 71-67 lead with 36 seconds left and teammate Elizabeth Williams stole a Diana Taurasi pass on the ensuing possession. There were 24 seconds remaining at that point so Phoenix (0-2) was forced to foul.
Chicago’s other Williams, Courtney, made key mid-range shots down the stretch to maintain the Sky lead. She hit from the left baseline to make it 66-61 with 3:44 to go and her bucket at 2:09 remaining made it 69-64.
A Taurasi three cut it to 66-64 and Griner’s third 3-point play of the contest cut it to 69-67 with 1:48 left, but Evans made the clutch shot of the contest.
Griner finished with 10 rebounds and four rejections. She was 9-of-13 from the field, 1-of-1 from distance and 8-of-9 at the stripe. Entering the game she had 720 career blocks, placing her in fourth place all-time, one behind Sylvia Fowles. Lisa Leslie is second with 822 and Margo Dydek is first with 877. Griner is first all-time in blocks per game (2.83); she is on pace to break Dydek’s record 55 games from now. That would be sometime next season.
The two Sky players who made the game-sealing plays, Evans and E. Williams, both had solid stat lines. Evans was good for 13 points and five assists and E. Williams posted 10 points, eight boards, three helpers and two steals. C Williams added 12 points, six rebounds and seven assists while Kahleah Copper (five boards) paced the winners with 15 points (2-of-2 from three).
Over the second half of the third quarter, Griner did her best to keep the Mercury within striking distance. She made a layup that cut it to 54-47, blocked a Kristine Anigwe shot and then made what we knew would be the biggest play of the game regardless of who won when she hit the three, which cut it to 58-53 with 39 seconds remaining before the fourth. After that, she pounded her chest and yelled “I’m back!” It was the seventh made three of her career; her career percentage is 38.9. Phoenix trailed 60-53 entering the final frame.
Chicago led by as much as 11 in the first half before Phoenix cut it to six at the break and to four early in the third. The Sky got their lead back up to 10 on a Morgan Bertsch layup that made it 49-39 three minutes and 33 seconds into the third. E. Williams continued was already a good performance for her with a reverse layup off a nice pass from Evans to make it 51-41 not long after.
The Mercury trailed 37-26 with 3:08 remaining in the first half, but refused to let the game take a turn for the worse. Griner’s second 3-point play of the game cut it to 37-30 and two Sophie Cunningham free throws cut it to 37-32. A Sug Sutton layup closed the half and cut Phoenix’s deficit to 41-35.
The Sky began the second quarter on a 7-0 run to lead 25-18. E. Williams scored six key points early in the frame; an inside bucket from her made it 29-22. That was followed by a Copper three; another Copper three made it 35-24.
Chicago led by four twice in the first (at 13-9 and 17-13). But Phoenix refused to let the Sky create breathing room. Moriah Jefferson hit a key three that tied it at 13, Taurasi made a three that cut a Phoenix deficit to 17-16 and then two Griner free throws tied it at 18 at the end of the frame. Griner also blocked a Copper reverse layup attempt to move past Fowles.
Griner scored inside on the first possession of the game for either side, was fouled and made the free throw. It took Chicago a little bit to get on the board, but it did so on an Evans three that cut it to 5-3. A C. Williams three would later cut it to 7-6 Phoenix and then a Bertsch layup gave the Sky the lead at 8-7. Griner made a nice assist to a backdoor-cutting Taurasi to give Phoenix the lead back at 9-8.
Taurasi had 16 points and six assists in defeat. Sutton was also solid for the Mercury with 13 points and two swipes.
The Sky won on the boards 39-29 and committed seven-fewer turnovers.