PHOENIX (AP) — Despite an up-and-down season, the Phoenix Mercury and Brittney Griner are headed to the WNBA playoffs.
Griner, the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s draft, had 12 of her 16 points in the second half and grabbed a season-high 14 rebounds as the Mercury beat the Silver Stars 83-80 Friday night, clinching the last playoff berth in the Western Conference.
Phoenix, which improved to 6-2 under interim coach Russ Pennell, led by 18 in the second half before San Antonio rallied to pull to 80-78 in the final minute. Diana Taurasi then made three of four free throws in the final 23 seconds to help secure the win.
“I thought it was the best game from start to finish that we’ve played since I have been here,” Pennell said. “Really, fourth quarter, when you get right down to it, we had some open looks, we didn’t make shots.”
Candice Dupree had 18 points and eight rebounds for Phoenix (16-13), which reached the playoffs for the fourth time in five seasons, after missing the postseason a year ago and winning the draft lottery for the No. 1 pick.
“But we can’t relax because now at this point we are competing for the third or fourth seed,” Dupree said. “We got to stay on it. I’d like to say that we would be able to get the starters some rest but I don’t know if that will happen.”
The Mercury lead fourth-place Seattle by 1 games and would face second-place Los Angeles in the first round.
“I think we are starting to get our roles defined a little bit better,” Pennell said in looking toward the postseason. “We are finally close to being healthy and if we can go on the road now and learn to play in pressure environments, I think that prepares us for the playoffs.”
Danielle Adams had 24 points, including nine in the final 3:34, and Jia Perkins added 14 for the Silver Stars (11-20), who have lost five of their last seven.
“They had a great 1-2 punch and Brittney started going off and Dupree got her shots,” Perkins said. “We had some let down defensively but we stayed with it and gave ourselves a chance there at the end, we just came up short.”
Griner made 5 of 9 from the floor, had two steals and two blocked shots in 27 minutes.
“I was getting good position, Coach wanted me to get the ball deep so that’s what I tried to do,” Griner said. “They did a good job getting me the ball and a couple of times, when they double (-teamed), we worked well out of it inside-out so threw them off.”
Taurasi had 21 points and seven assists for Phoenix, which took advantage of San Antonio’s poor shooting. The Silver Stars made just 38 percent of their shots from the field and were outrebounded 43-33.
Jayne Appel grabbed 17 rebounds for San Antonio before fouling out with 1:25 remaining.
“I thought the separation they had in the first half, we had to play catch-up basketball,” Silver Stars coach Dan Hughes said. “I thought we played well in the second half but obviously time ran out on us.”
The Mercury opened up an early 10-2 lead but San Antonio bounced back, sparked by Perkins’ two 3-pointers to erase the lead.
But the Silver Stars only shot 35 percent from the field in the first half and the Mercury took a 42-32 advantage at the break behind Dupree’s 12 points.
The teams’ have split their four meetings this year.