SAN ANTONIO (AP) — Brittney Griner’s unofficial homecoming proved to be a spinning, jump-shooting, smashing success.
Playing less than a 3-hour drive from where she starred in college, Griner had 26 points, seven rebounds and five blocks and the Phoenix Mercury outlasted the San Antonio Silver Stars 83-77 on Tuesday night for their fifth win in six games.
“I just knew I needed to play hard,” said Griner, a three-time All-American at Baylor. “But of course when you’re playing in front of friends, family, especially since my mom was here, she doesn’t make a lot of my games, so I definitely wanted to put on a show for her.”
DeWanna Bonner added 14 points and Candice Dupree had 12 rebounds for Phoenix (5-4). Diana Taurasi, who came in averaging a league-leading 24.6 points, was limited to 18 points for the Mercury, but Griner more than made up for it.
“That second half was as effective as you can be as a post player on both sides of the court,” Taurasi said. “Defensively, she really patched up a lot of our mistakes. Offensively, when she gets in position like that, she has such a great touch and feel for the basket. She played really well today, that’s probably the best game as a pro she’s played.”
Griner had 14 points and two blocks in the fourth quarter to help Phoenix overcome a feisty effort from depleted San Antonio (3-6).
Shameka Christon, Danielle Adams and Danielle Robinson each had 15 points for the Silver Stars, who have lost five of six.
San Antonio gave away green shirts to commemorate its “Go Green” recycling campaign, but the attire might as well have been passed out in tribute to Griner.
The former Bears standout attracted the Silver Stars’ largest crowd of the season (9,007), which included Danny Green and Boris Diaw of the San Antonio Spurs.
Many of those in attendance were already wearing the green and gold of Baylor, and Griner gave them plenty to cheer about after a sluggish start.
She was 11 for 19 from the field while showing off an expanding offensive game with a series of spins and bank shots to overcome San Antonio’s physical defense.
Griner jokingly placed her black-and-pink backpack over her head when the media entered the locker room. Maybe San Antonio can borrow the backpack the next time it faces her since little else worked Tuesday night.
“She’s a real tough guard,” said DeLisha Milton-Jones, a 15-year veteran. “Just off of her size alone and she’s mobile for her size. It’s really hard to guard her anywhere under the basket because it’s just a turn and drop the ball in the basket, not even shoot. With her you have to be physical, you have to do your work early.”
Griner also helped Phoenix outrebound San Antonio 49-29. The Mercury were 22 for 26 on free throws while San Antonio was 8 for 9.
In spite of those lopsided numbers and despite playing without Sophia Young (knee), Becky Hammon (finger) and Jayne Appel (concussion), the Silver Stars were still in contention until the final minute.
“It’s a great learning tool for us,” Milton-Jones said. “The thing we learned from this game is every possession matters. When you look at Phoenix and us, they went to the free throw line 26 times and us 9. There is a huge imbalance as far as us getting points in the paint per se or attacking the rim. I think we settled for a lot of jumpers and in return that starts their transition.”
A lot of that had to do with Griner.
With Phoenix leading 66-62, Griner blocked an attempted layup by Adams with 6 minutes remaining and then blocked Shenise Johnson’s layup 2 minutes later to preserve a 68-65 lead.
The teams exchanged baskets in the fourth after each made huge runs in the previous quarters.
San Antonio opened the second half on a 20-4 run to take a 53-47 lead with 3 minutes left in the third. Adams hit a pair of 3s and Robinson had six points in the run.
After Griner banked in a jumper in with 8:26 left in the third, Phoenix failed to score until Bonner hit a pair of free throws with 2:50 remaining in the quarter.
Despite the offensive futility, Phoenix only trailed 56-53 entering the fourth after a stellar second quarter.
Griner fueled a 14-0 run that gave Phoenix a 32-26 lead, scoring six points, grabbing two rebounds and blocking two shots while holding San Antonio scoreless for four minutes.
Griner was unable to gain positioning early against the burly Adams.
She was 0 for 2 with no rebounds in the opening 4 minutes of the game before making a layup with 5:12 left in the first. Her lone dunk attempt was stuffed by the rim, but she gathered the miss and put it back up for a layup.
“I just had to slow down and remember just get deep position and spin off of them,” Griner said. “They were hitting me on one side, so go the other way.”
Adams proved more effective, scoring nine points in the first quarter while going 3 for 4 from the field.