Brittney Griner won the opening tip over Sylvia Fowles and batted down the rebound off Diana Taurasi’s miss for her first career basket 28 seconds into Monday’s opener.
After that, the much-anticipated matchup between the WNBA’s first two draft choices belonged to Elena Delle Donne, who scored 22 points, as the Chicago Sky defeated the Phoenix Mercury, 102-80, at US Airways Center.
Epiphanny Prince led the Sky with 26 points (6-for-9 on three pointers) and five assists, and the 6-foot-8 Griner finished with 17 points, eight rebounds, four blocks, and a pair of dunks in the fourth quarter.
“It definitely is more physical, but you have to go out and play more physical in a smart way,” Griner said of the pros. “I wish it was a win, but each time I dunked the crowd got into it. We had a great turnout, it was great to see the support.”
Delle Donne, at 6-foot-5, also grabbed the same number of boards and blocked the same amount of shots as Griner, but as a team, Chicago outrebounded Phoenix 41-29 and shot 50 percent from long range, mostly due to Prince.
“I didn’t really think about that,” Prince said about stepping up while the rookies were so hyped. “I just come out and do my job, what my teammates and coaching staff expect of me. I’m feeling pretty confident about what we have in this room, everybody is gelling together, but it’s still early, we have a lot to work on, but this was a pretty impressive win today.”
The Sky led 17-9 after the first quarter, and consecutive Prince threes – the second one while falling- made it 36-18 with 6:00 left in the first half. After a Phoenix timeout, the Mercury scored four before Prince drained her fourth three. Taurasi, who would finish with a team-high 18 points, finally got on the board with four minutes on the clock to cut the deficit to 19, 43-24. Delle Donne sank a three at the buzzer to give her 16 at the break and a 56-32 lead.
Out of halftime, Griner recorded her fifth point on a traditional three-point play. Five consecutive from DeWanna Bonner decreased Chicago’s lead to 12 with two minutes left in the third, but it swelled to 74-52 in that span.
Bonner scored 13 with seven rebounds, Candice Dupree had 15 points, and Samantha Prahalis led Phoenix with five assists.
“We can’t do anything to get better, our offense was stagnant today, we couldn’t get shots,” Bonner said. “Delle Donne is a great shooter. Brittney came out and had a great second half, she really showed the real Brittney Griner.”
With the two dunks, Griner now owns 25 percent of the league’s all-time total. It had only been done six times previously, two coming from Candace Parker in 2008.
“It was tough on her because she got three fouls and I made the decision to let her stay in,” Mercury coach Corey Gaines said of Griner’s debut. “Then I saw the way the game was being called and instead of putting it on her, I felt that I needed to get her out of the game, and that really hurt us.”
Courtney Vandersloot chipped in 14 points for the Sky, Tamera Young had 10, and Fowles grabbed a game-high 10 rebounds with nine points.
“The win feels great,” Sky coach Pokey Chatman said. “The big thing for us was making sure Phoenix didn’t get transition baskets. That’s what they do really, really well. The first part of that is making sure we had quality shots on offense.”
Next, the Mercury is at Seattle June 2 and returns home at 7 p.m. June 14 to face the Los Angeles Sparks. The Sky opens its home slate Friday versus Connecticut.