PHOENIX – Although she tied her career playoff high with 29 points and landed the first dunk in WNBA Finals history, Phoenix center Mercury Brittney’s most important game Griner in Wednesday’s victory over the Chicago Sky came in defense late in overtime.
She blocked a layup of Kahleah Copper of Chicago with 1:34 left and the game tied at 86. This led to a 3-pointer from Diana Taurasi of Phoenix to give the Mercury the advantage in their 91- win. 86 which tied the series at 1-1 as he heads to Chicago for Game 3.
Whenever the Mercury needed a game on the stretch, Griner made it happen.
She’s scored seven of Phoenix’s last 12 points in regulation, and while she hasn’t scored in overtime, she’s had three rebounds and that crucial block.
“It’s huge,” Taurasi said. “We know who our bread and butter is. BG is just playing on a different level right now, and there’s really nothing anyone can do. We knew that coming into this game, it was going to be an important objective: we must lower BG early and often.
“She supported us for most of the game when offensively we didn’t really have a rhythm, and every time I looked up she was doing big basket after big basket when we weren’t playing well. what BG does, though I think sometimes we take for granted how amazing she is. “
Griner was about to jump – literally.
She scored the first 10 points for the Mercury, which included the first dunk in final history with 5:35 left in the first quarter. It was Griner’s 24th career dunk and second in the playoffs. Mercury coach Sandy Brondello didn’t want Griner fed every game; however, she would have liked Griner to be more involved at certain stages of the game, resetting in the post rather than setting screens.
Good things happened when Griner hit the ball on Wednesday, as did the Mercury with 17 of 29 goals, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.
“Obviously she’s a dominant player,” said Brondello. “We don’t want to leave [to her] all the time because we have to get everyone involved, but she has to be – she’s also a playmaker, not just a goalscorer. “
Griner got help from the rest of Mercury’s big three – Taurasi and Skyler Diggins-Smith – as they combined for 27 of Phoenix’s 34 points in the fourth quarter and overtime.
Taurasi finished with 20 points despite entering the fourth quarter with just six. She started overtime with a four-point game and finished overtime with eight – single-handedly scoring Chicago’s seven-point total.
“It’s the GOAT right there,” Griner said. “We know what Dee can bring no matter how she starts the game or whatever. You know when the time flies, when the time is crunch, we have all the faith in the world that Dee is going to do these. hits and made great plays for us. She does it year after year. “
Together, Griner and Taurasi scored 23 points in the fourth quarter and in overtime to tie Sky’s total as a team during that streak.
Diggins-Smith added 13 points to go with 12 rebounds and seven assists for the game.
The Sky were punctuated by their five holders, four of which scored in double digits. Courtney Vandersloot led Chicago with 20 points and 14 assists. Guard Allie Quigley had 19, Copper had 15, and Candace Parker had 13.
The atmosphere inside the Footprint Center was so electric that Diggins-Smith said she couldn’t hear.
This led to one of the most confusing rooms of the night.
Taurasi, who has had three interceptions all season, made his fourth steal with 34 seconds left. She ended up tripping out of bounds, but not before Brondello called a timeout, allowing Phoenix to keep the ball and score a layup on the next play to seal the victory. However, only the players right next to the whistling official knew that a time out had been requested. The rest of the players continued.
“Great effort,” Brondello said of Taurasi’s robbery. “But we joked about her a bit, the biggest game of the day was stealing. Diana doesn’t fly very often so it was a big game.”
When Griner was able to work at the station, she was “comfortable,” Sky guard Courtney Vandersloot said. Half of Griner’s 44 touches in the half court went into the paint.
“We always try to make it difficult for her, mixing up the readings, but when she starts like that – she had 10 quick points at the start – but we’re okay with that,” Vandersloot said. “We know she’s a great player for a reason. We just have to try and throw something else at her.”
Not much work on Wednesday.
Griner scored on three different main defenders and was 8 for 14 when defended by Stefanie Dolson and Azura Stevens. Overall, she was 12 of 19 on the court and had nine rebounds and two blocks. Griner was also 5 for 5 on the free throw line, which Chicago coach James Wade pointed out to be more free throws than Sky attempted as a team.
“I just think they played more physically and I think they were allowed to do it,” Wade said. “We shot four free throws. Four free throws.
“Call it what you want. I’ve never seen this ratio in a championship game before. You score so many points in the paint, that means you attack the basket and shoot four free throws.”
Griner came into Game 2 wanting to be better in defense, and that worked, too. She kept Chicago 5-for-13 on the field as a primary defense, although she was taken out of the paint by Sky so she couldn’t be a shot blocker, Brondello said. But Griner’s goal was straightforward Wednesday: “Don’t suck the defense like I did in Game 1.”
“It was honestly my biggest thing, just not hugging my man,” Griner said. “I hugged my man too much in that first game. I hugged him too much. When I’m in the painting and they see me and I’m there, that’s where I can help my team. When I’m away hugging on the perimeter and not in the paint, I’m just a dead weight there. So that was a great thing.
“And then just be aggressive from the jump. If it fits, it fits, if it doesn’t, it doesn’t. My teammates have all the faith and always talk to me. That was my thing. , just go to the rim, take it, but if I don’t, I don’t. “
As Game 3 headed to Chicago’s Wintrust Arena, Parker, from Chicagoland, said she and her teammates would have “a lot” of friends and family in the stands. The arena is sold out for the franchise’s first home final game.
Parker was skeptical when she first heard that the game was sold out. So she went to the Wintrust Arena website but no tickets were available. Then she went to Ticketmaster and saw the resale value of the tickets.
For Parker, now in her 14th season, seeing for herself that the game was actually sold out – “because often times it’s sold out but you can still get tickets” – was proof that the WNBA grows.
“I think it’s great for our fans,” Parker said, “it’s great for the city of Chicago and it’s great for the WNBA to have this happen.”