The Phoenix Mercury took a decisive Game 4 at home on the back of a career night from Brittney Griner.
PHOENIX — Hobbled thanks to an opponent’s flailing leg after a clanked free throw, with an eye decorated purple from a Game 3 collision, Brittney Griner in victory closely resembled her Phoenix Mercury as she walked off the court of Sunday’s Game 4 in Phoenix: Battered but resilient.
Griner’s 29 points not only tied a playoff career high, but led the Mercury to another comeback win, this time from down as many as 17. The first quarter was not pretty for Phoenix— “They were kicking our butts,” as Mercury forward DeWanna Bonner put it— but they took every subsequent period and won, 86-84.
“We’re not ready to go home yet,” added Bonner. No Mercury player felt that message more strongly than Griner, whose emotional outpour coupled with the 29 and 12 pushed Phoenix over the top.
It was Griner’s defense that sealed the final possession of the game, as well, arms outstretched, bearing over the top of Storm big Breanna Stewart and forcing the ball out of Stewart’s hand as the buzzer sounded.
“We talked about ‘Just don’t give her any open looks, and make sure we’re staying in plays,’ and Brittney did a fantastic job,” explained Mercury head coach Sandy Brondello.
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The play prior, Griner’s positioning around the hoop opened her up to a pass from teammate Camille Little to finish a bunny in the paint that put the Mercury on top by 2.
“I had just fouled Stewie on the 3, so I had to do something to make it up,” Griner joked after the contest.
It’s like Griner to be humble in victory or defeat. But the Mercury know they will need another performance like this from her to be able to go on the road and beat Seattle in a deciding Game 5 on Tuesday.
Battling the Storm duo of Stewart and Natasha Howard, both incredible Sunday night, taxes the mind and body as much as any matchup in the WNBA. Phoenix knows this — and they trust Griner.
“We always say the only person that really can stop her is her,” Diana Taurasi told High Post Hoops postgame. “When she plays with that type of force, there’s really not much you can do.”
The Mercury know this, and down somewhere deep down, behind that trophy of a black eye, Griner knows it too. For two years, Phoenix has gone as Griner goes. On Sunday, it was enough.
Ahead of Game 5, that battle down low will be the focus. If Griner can pull out another massive, two-way performance like the one she had in Game 4, it’s tough to imagine Phoenix losing.
Asked after the game about what can be done to stop the five-time All-Star Griner, Stewart was all business:
“When they went with their bigger lineup, we just need to be better and to communicate more on who’s doubling [Griner].”
The stage is set, propped up in the middle of the green Key Arena paint. Game 5 will be decided down low.
Phoenix lost the deciding game of a sweep to Los Angeles on its home court last season. This year, they won both at home to even the series. The pain and knowledge from that experience is not lost on Griner, ready for the task ahead.
“We know what it feels like to lose, and your season’s over. We’re not ready for the season to be over,” Griner said. “So we’re doing literally everything we can every possession to just get the win and get the job done.”