She's hailed as the new "face" of the WNBA, thanks to her outsized, 6'8 frame and 7'4 wingspan, agility and dunking ability, but Brittney Griner and her team, the Phoenix Mercury, were the ones dunked in their home opener, courtesy of the now-promising Chicago Sky, who pummeled the Mercury 102-80 to spoil the Mercury's home opener on national TV.
The Sky's #1 draft pick, Elena Delle Donne, had one of the best rookie debuts in WNBA history, scoring 22 points and eight assists. Delle Donne showed off her versatility, scoring on drives, pull-up jumpers and a couple of 3-pointers, including one at the buzzer, to score 16 points by halftime. Epiphanny Prince led all scorers with 26 points and five assists, Courtney Vandersloot added 14 points and Delle Donne, the #2 overall pick behind Griner, also had eight rebounds for Chicago.
"Today was absolutely amazing,'' Delle Donne told the Associated Press, whose debut was sixth-best in league history. ``We came here to get a win and that's what we're leaving with.''
Prince, a 2012 WNBA All-Star who was recently signed to a multiyear contract extension, was the Sky’s fourth overall pick in the 2010 draft. Last night, she locked in six three-point goals in the win.
“It was nice to see everybody come together and play very well," Prince said. " We had the ball, the passes went very well, we had assists, we had rebounds. We just clicked on everything. We played great defense, and it was a great game.”
Led by Delle Donne and Prince, the Sky were ahead by as much as 27 points during the game.
“The key was that first three and a half minutes when neither offense knew what they were doing," said Pokey Chatman, the Sky's Head Coach. "I think we did a decent job defensively. You don’t usually say that when a team scores 80 and our goal was 72, but I think at the end of the day, when the game needed to be decided we locked in on some key defensive plays.”
The Sky set a new franchise record for most points scored in a quarter when they totaled 39 points in the second, narrowly missing the WNBA record (40 points.)
Griner, whose #1 overall draft selection by the Mercury was one I questioned in a previous post, still finished with a respectable 17 points, eight rebounds, four blocked shots and two history-making dunks. Diana Taurasi had 18 points and four assists, and former Sky draft pick Candice Dupree added 15 points for Phoenix.
We had a lot of issues today,” Taurasi told the Arizona Republic. “We really couldn’t get much done on either side of the ball. (The Sky) played a great game. They came in here and gave us a pretty good kicking. They deserved it. They played better from the beginning of the game to the end.”
However, the fans inside US Airways Center and on ESPN2 tuned in to see Griner dunk. And she made history by dunking twice in the same game, first throwing down a one-hander early in the fourth quarter, followed by a vicious two-handed dunk in the closing minutes.
With that, Griner made history as the only woman in WNBA history to register two dunks in a single game. That also put her in select company, joining Naperville native Candace Parker (twice) and Lisa Leslie as the only WNBA players to dunk in a regular-season game.
As the AP noted, even when Phoenix tried to make a run and Griner got her dunks, the Sky didn't fold, keeping the lead in double digits on the way to handing the Mercury their most lopsided home-opening loss in their 15-year history.
Teammate Taurasi said of Griner. “Foul trouble will happen. It is a part of the game. But the way she came out in the second half was good news. To be on the bench the whole first half and come out in the second and play that well, if we can get two halves of that then we have a chance at winning some games.”
However, Griner was philosophical in the opening-day loss when there were so many expectations for success, especially against a team like the Sky, which have struggled against big-name opponents in previous years.
“In a loss you always learn a lot, so we’ll definitely go back to see what we did wrong and change it for the next game,” she said.
Next up for the Sky is their home opener is Friday, May 31, against an improved Connecticut Sun.
All said, with their win today, the Sky proved something in their 8th opening game: they may well be on their way to their long-sought playoff berth with Delle Donne. On paper, at least, the pieces may finally be in place.