Griner leads “grind time” in San Antonio for Phoenix 83-77 victory in front of her friends and family
SAN ANTONIO – The Phoenix Mercury continued their turnaround from a bleak start to the season with an 83-77 victory over the San Antonio Silver Stars in front of 9.007 fans escaping the nearly 100 degrees Fahrenheit Texas dry heat outside of the AT&T center.
Recent Baylor graduate and Mercury rookie center Brittney Griner led her team with 26 points, seven rebounds and five blocks.
The first quarter was a back-and-forth contest until the last two minutes. While it was no surprise that 6-8 Griner won the tip vs. 6-1 forward DeLisha Milton-Jones, it was the veteran who scored the first points of the game. After Griner missed a turnaround jump shot, Milton-Jones nailed a three-pointer. The Silver Stars managed to accumulate a six-point lead early in the game only to have Phoenix chip away with a balanced offensive attack to tie the game at 10 halfway through the quarter. In the fast-paced start to the contest, there were with three more ties before Shameka Christon made a trey followed by a driving lay-up from guard Danielle Robinson to give the Silver Stars a 26-18 lead to end the period.
The tide turned for San Antonio three minutes into the second quarter when Phoenix took the lead, 27-26 after a lay-up from Griner. The Mercury held the edge as there were no ties in the second quarter. Diana Taurasi and Griner helped Phoenix earn a 43-33 halftime lead with ten points each. Taurasi also had five rebounds while Griner swatted a trio of shots for three blocks.
“We came out in the second quarter and they got the best of us,” said Silver Stars head coach Dan Hughes.
The third quarter began with an offensive onslaught from the Silver Stars as they managed to tie the game with several players contributing shots including a lay-up from Robinson to even the score at 47. San Antonio ran up a seven-point lead before the Mercury’s DeWanna Bonner and Charde Houston put their team back within one with just a few minutes left in the quarter. Phoenix ended the third quarter with the lead but could not hold on to the momentum in the fourth. They began to look worn down as the Mercury became a relentless menace while getting to the foul line a lot more than Silver Stars.
“We were playing a little catch up there,” said Hughes of the second half. “I thought that when you look at all the factors, they were able to distance us from the foul line. We get there nine times, they get there 26 times. That’s a pretty big statistic, because we were very efficient with the ball. We didn’t shoot it well; they didn’t shoot it real well. But their ability to get to the foul line and get us into foul trouble played a big part.”
The last period saw two ties and Houston-native Griner, playing in front of friends, family and Baylor-faithful, lead the Mercury to a seven-point lead. Griner said she “had to put a show” for her mother.
“It feels good to play my first pro game back in Texas,” said Griner about returning to the Lone Star state after being the league’s No. 1 draft pick in April. “My mom came out, friends came down” she continued. The rookie phenom’s mother missed many of her college games due to suffering from lupus. Griner said it was “icing on the cake to get the win” in front of loved ones. Known for her dunking ability, she missed her one attempt at the crowd-pleasing shot but rebounded her own miss for a quick putback.
Hughes praised Griner’s ability to score inside.
“She’s a real factor in the half court,” he said. “
“She’s able to be a big target for them,” he continued. “You look at them in the half court and you have Taurasi, Bonner, (Candice) Dupree and now what they add is another interior scorer.”
Teammate Taurasi also praised the rookie.
“Tonight was the best game she has played as a pro.”
Taurasi finished with 18 points, nine rebounds and eight assists. Bonner was also in double figures with 14 while Dupree added 12 rebounds to her six points.
In the last minute San Antonio had an opportunity to get back into the game but Shenise Johnson blew an open lay-up off a fast break with Taurasi chasing her down the court. The veteran Mercury guard rebounded the ball and was promptly fouled by Robinson. Taurasi made both of her free throws with 11 seconds left in the game sealing the deal for the Mercury.
Robinson was disappointed in the loss but not in her team’s effort.
“We missed a lot of open shots that we usually hit,” said Robinson. “But everybody is confident, nobody got down on themselves. Everyone continued to shoot as you saw. Those are shots we usually make and we’re confident that we’ll make them next game.”
The Mercury outrebounded the Silver Stars 49-29. Danielle Adams and Christon led San Antonio with 15 points each. Jia Perkins had 11 points while Milton-Jones contributed 10 plus six rebounds.
Griner and Phoenix head coach Corey Gaines cited the Mercury’s fourth quarter effort as key.
“They made runs. We made runs. They came back, we came back. That fourth quarter was grind time.” said Griner. “It was a tough game,” said Gaines. “We had to grind it out.”
Phoenix started the season 0-3 but are now 5-4 while the Silver Stars drop to 3-6.
“That 0-3 start was a big wake up call for us because we knew we had a lot of talent on this team,” said Taurasi. “We learned that if we do not put that talent to something bigger than yourself it does not really matter. The team took a step back and everyone has been contributing and tonight was a complete team effort.”
Phoenix heads to Washington for a game on Thursday. San Antonio travels to Atlanta for a Sunday contest.
- The Mercury continues to lead the all-time series between the two teams, 38-30.
- Samantha Prahalis and Penny Taylor did not play for the Mercury. Taylor is listed as day-to-day strengthening her left knee after ACL surgery last year. For San Antonio, Becky Hammon is still recovering from a broken middle right finger and Jayne Appel did not play due to a concussion.
- WNBA president Laurel Richie attended the game and met with media pregame for a Q&A.
- Game officials: Michael Price, Amy Bonner, Roy Gulbeyan.