PHOENIX (AP) Brittney Griner swatted her way into the record books. Candice Dupree made just about every shot she took. Diana Taurasi dominated in all aspects.
Utilizing all of their star power at both ends of the floor, the Phoenix Mercury turned the opening game of the WNBA Finals into a roaring rout.
If Chicago doesn’t play better or get Elena Delle Donna’s back healthy, this could be one quick series – and the Sky know it.
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”I think it was a big wake-up call for us,” Sky point guard Courtney Vandersloot said.
The WNBA Finals appeared to be lopsided heading into the series: a team that set a league record for regular-season victories (Phoenix with 29) facing the first one to make the playoffs with a losing record (Chicago at 15-19).
The on-paper mismatch materialized on the court in the opener as the Mercury ran past the Sky and Delle Donne, who was limited to 11 minutes because of lower-back pain.
Griner set the tone early, blocking five shots in the first quarter on her way to eight for the game, both WNBA records.
Dupree hit her first 10 shots and had 26 points on 13-of-17 shooting.
Taurasi was in full control of Phoenix’s offense, finishing with 19 points and 11 assists while the Mercury shot a Finals-record 58.5 percent from the field. Phoenix also held Chicago to 32 percent in the 82-63 runaway.
A dominating performance heading into Game 2 on Tuesday, but not a series-ender – not by any stretch.
The Sky have thrived in the underdog role all season, battling a slew of injuries to key players just to get into the playoffs, then beat Atlanta and Indiana in three-game series to get into the finals.
Even with Delle Donne ailing, the Mercury are wary of getting too confident against the Sky.
”This is a team that is hungry,” Mercury coach Sandy Brondello said. ”Yes, they’re without Delle Donne, but they showed that they can still come back in the Indiana series and win it. We are showing them the due respect that they deserve because this is a good, young team.”
Delle Donne was in clear pain during Game 1 and was still sore on Monday despite sitting out the second half the night before. She went through an assortment of treatment, including massage, stretching and ice, but the good news was that X-rays and an MRI showed no structural damage.
”I think it’s maybe just frustrating for her that she felt great yesterday,” Sky coach Pokey Chatman said. ”Unsolicited, she just came up to me washing our hands in the locker room and said `Yeah, I feel really good.’ It must be frustrating for her because she’s doing everything and the trainers are taking care of her. It’s a day-to-day and up-to-the-minute thing.”
A bigger issue for the Sky may be the big woman in the middle for Phoenix.
Griner gave Chicago all kinds of fits in Game 1, altering as many shots as she blocked and forcing the Sky’s players to kick the ball out instead of attacking the rim.
Griner’s athleticism also hurt Chicago. She’s 6-foot-8 with an even longer reach, but also moves well, allowing her to hedge out on screens and still get back to block or alter shots.
Finding an answer for her was a big point of emphasis for the Sky during Monday’s practice.
”She was incredible,” Mercury forward Penny Taylor said. ”Her focus yesterday on being in the right position, she has great anticipation and I think that’s the key to the blocks she had yesterday. She was prepared to help at any moment and seeing where everyone was on the floor. She was really impressive.”