Brittney Griner grabbed her career high with 14 rebounds, as the No.1 draft pick returned the Phoenix Mercury to the playoffs with an 83-80 win over the San Antonio Silver Stars Friday at US Airways Center.
The Mercury (16-13) clinched its eighth playoff berth in franchise history, and is just ahead of Seattle (15-15) for the third seed in the West. The Silver Stars (11-20) are mathematically eliminated.
“It’s the first step to where we want to go,” said Mercury guard Diana Taurasi, who scored 21 points with seven assists. “It’s a good feeling that we clinched, we’re in. It’s important we keep getting better every step, so when they do start we’re playing our best.”
Griner added 16 points for her second career double-double, Candice Dupree had 18 points and eight rebounds, and Briana Gilbreath chipped in 12 points for the Mercury.
“I feel like I finally proved myself,” Griner said, “but I can’t take the whole credit, we won this collectively. We all played together and contributed.”
The Silver Stars experienced huge games inside from Danielle Adams (26 points) and Jayne Appel (17 rebounds), and Jia Perkins and Shenise Johnson both scored 14.
The Mercury eased its way into an early eight-point lead, before the Silver Stars scored 10 unanswered and took the lead on a smooth Perkins three with 2:55 left in the first. Jasmine James hit a running bank shot at the buzzer to put Phoenix up 20-16, and San Antonio would never see the higher end of the scoreboard again, although it did scare the Mercury with an 11-point run in the early fourth quarter.
With a Mercury lead as high as 18, Adams cut the lead to four with 45 seconds remaining. Griner fouled out with an illegal screen, returning possession to San Antonio. DeWanna Bonner sent Shenise Johnson to the line where she iced two. On the other side, Taurasi would miss the second end of two free throws and with an out-of-bounds roll in Phoenix’s favor, she knocked down two to make it a two-possession game with 19 ticks, 83-78. Adams scored again in the post. The ball rattled around between Johnson, Dupree, Adams, and Krystal Thomas before the clock finally expired.
“I thought it was probably the best game from start to finish since I’ve been here,” Mercury coach Russ Pennell said. “Credit San Antonio for fighting to come back. What I like is when you make plays at the end because you have to if you want to be a championship team. Krystal Thomas made two huge plays this thing (waving score sheet) will never show.”
Griner also praised the efforts of Thomas, who was instrumental in the final minute.
Already minus Becky Hammon and Sophia Young for the year, the Silver Stars were without All-Star guard Danielle Robinson for the sixth consecutive game with a strained right knee and Davellyn Whyte for the second. Whyte, the rookie from the University of Arizona who has been averaging 4.5 points per game, has a partially torn Achilles tendon in her right foot.
Friday marked the first career game for Chelsea Hopkins, from San Diego State, who was added to the Silver Stars’ roster Sept. 4 as a replacement player.
After a road trip to Atlanta (Sunday), New York (Tuesday) and Chicago (Wednesday), the Mercury will host San Antonio again at 7 p.m. Sept. 13. In the meantime, the Silver Stars have one game versus Tulsa Sunday.