It’s the Phoenix Mercury time to own the Footprint Center, and the return of Britney Griner was the opener on Sunday afternoon.
The Mercury face off with the Chicago Sky in front of 14,000 Mercury fans that came out to see the return to the court center Britney Griner.
Griner makes her home return after her year away being detained in Russia.
The welcome home was spoiled by the Sky’s ability to get all of its starters in double figures and force the Mercury into 18 turnovers that led to 22 Sky points.
Britney was game for the big moment as she finished with a game-high 27 points 10 rebounds and 4 blocks.
Those great numbers didn’t translate into the first win of the year in two games, and the team is a long way away from being where they want to be but Griner’s performance is a sample of more to come.
The game was a roller coaster from start to finish, the Mercury could not break the 10-point deficit threshold all game long. Every time they got it close to 6 points the Sky made great ball movement and got the open layup or jump shot to push the lead back to double digits.
In the fourth quarter, the Mercury finally got the lead down to one and could not find the discipline to make the correct plays down the stretch to pull off the win at home.
The team had the crowd behind them as this was one of the largest crowds for a regular season game.
We asked coach Vanessa Nygaard about the turnovers in the last two games where they gave up 22 on Friday and 18 tonight, and she said it’s because of the team being new also she held back saying that the referees may have had a lot to do with a few of them.
Thursday against the Minnesota Lynx is the next opportunity for the Mercury to get on track and start winning games, as they are dealing with a few more obstacles than just being a new team.
Getting Griner back is one part of the equation, and the loss of sharpshooter Sophie Cunningham before the season started was another, Cunningham played in tonight’s game on a minute restriction and the coaching staff made sure she was not over her allowed minutes.
Sophie is a big part of what this team does as she will benefit from the return of Griner in the corners for threes, also Brianna Turner has yet to get used to being back in her original position as Power Forward and has yet to attempt a field goal in two games.
Britney alluded to this point that she and Turner will find their way and get back to how they played together as a one-two punch before Griner’s absence.
It may take a while for this team to get where they want to go, as the timeline for team chemistry has no set timetable.
The absence of Shey Peddy has been unnoticed because of the great play of new guard Sug Sutton, who has added the same element that Peddy brought to the table by breaking down the defense and getting to the rim and also setting up teammates for easy shots.
Sutton has embraced the challenge and is feeling comfortable already as she told the press after the game.
The WNBA has increased its regular season by four more games at 40 for the season, so that leaves the Phoenix Mercury 38 more opportunities to gel as a unit before a potential playoff run.
Yes, it’s very early to talk playoffs, but if Britney Griner will put up the stat line she did today, then it’s only a matter of time before this team emerges as one of the front runners at the season ends if everyone can stay healthy.