PHOENIX — Seattle can blame itself.
Last season, Storm forward Tina Thompson and Camille Little teamed to pound Phoenix’s Brittney Griner into insignificance when the 6-foot-8 center was supposed to take over the WNBA. As a result, Seattle swept Phoenix in its four games.
Now it’s a different story, as Griner proved Saturday night in a 81-64 victory for the Mercury over the Storm.
The second-year post had four blocks in the opening quarter — three against Little — and reached double-figure scoring midway through the second quarter. Griner finished with a game-high 19 points on 8-for-9 shooting from the field with five blocks.
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“She’s getting comfortable in the league and finding out her niche and was more mobile,” said Little, who led Seattle with 14 points and seven rebounds. “But I kept going to the basket. I’m 6-2; people are going to block my shot.”
After building an 8-6 lead with 5:05 left in the first quarter, the Mercury went on a 17-5 run — hitting four three-pointers during the stretch — to end the quarter ahead 25-11. The Mercury led 44-24 after a three-pointer by Diana Taurasi with 2:27 left in the half.
Shouting “Chip away! Chip away!” to each other, Seattle players tried to couple defensive stops with offensive scores, but couldn’t close the gap to single digits in the second half.
Down 56-43, Storm forward Jenna O’Hea missed a three-pointer with 2:39 left in the third quarter that could’ve cut the lead to 10.
Griner being effective without fouling and the Mercury’s collective team pressure mirrored what the Storm considers its staple.
“I came in with more poise,” Griner said. “And we didn’t try to overdo it.”
When Seattle was able to shoot, it wasn’t a clean look within the flow of the offense. Phoenix forced Seattle into 33.9 percent shooting and 14 turnovers for 14 Mercury points. The Storm had 19 turnovers for 25 points in losing at home Friday to Los Angeles.
“What (fans) see, we feel,” Storm point guard Sue Bird said of the disjointed offense. “We’ve just got to simplify things and focus on what we have in this locker room to bring the best out of each other.”
Part of Seattle’s rising issue of controlling the ball is infusing trade acquisition Crystal Langhorne, an all-star from Washington, into the system and Bird back as the leader after missing last season due to a knee injury. But Phoenix displayed one of its better defensive efforts early while shooting 55.9 percent from the field, going 7 for 15 on three-pointers.
“We just played what’s probably going to be two of the better teams in the league,” Bird said. “Both teams’ depth is very valuable. But a lot of what happened to us was unforced.”
Seattle coach Brian Agler is expected to rejoin the team after missing the Saturday game to attend his son’s college graduation.
Jayda Evans: 206-464-2067 or firstname.lastname@example.org.