This time last year, the Phoenix Mercury were sitting at home with the second worst record in the WNBA, beaten out only by the Washington Mystics. This year, this Monday night, on a shot with 4.9 seconds left by stellar rookie Brittney Griner, the Mercury advanced to the Western Conference Finals for the eighth time in the history of the franchise.
Last year was a difficult one for the Mercury. Phoenix had 10 different players start a game last season, and Alexis Hornbuckle was the only woman on the roster to play in all 34 games. The only other player to play in more than 30 games was leading scorer DeWanna Bonner, who averaged 12 points per game. Star guard Diana Taurasi was limited to only eight games as she dealt with a strained left hip flexor all season.
Then, magic hit the organization. The Mercury’s ping-pong balls bounced their way, giving them the No. 1 pick in the 2013 draft. Thankfully for Phoenix, Griner, one of the most dominating players in the history of women’s college basketball, was eligible for drafting. As April 15 rolled around, there was no doubt that the former Baylor star would be moving to the desert.
The 6-foot-8-inch center made an immediate impact for the Mercury, scoring more than 10 points in each of her first nine games with the organization. Griner also averaged three blocks per game over that stretch, blocking four or more shots five times. She averaged 12.4 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 3.0 blocks per game, a very productive season for a rookie.
In the team’s three-game series against the Los Angeles Sparks, Griner averaged 11.3 points, while scoring the two biggest points of the team’s season, the game-winning basket in game 3 against Los Angeles.
Griner’s positive impact on the Mercury’s season has been undeniable. Her acquisition, along with the Taurasi’s resurgence, propelled the team to a playoff berth and a deep playoff run this season.
The Mercury will face the Minnesota Lynx in the Western Conference Finals on Thursday. The Lynx swept the Seattle Storm 2-0 to advance to the series against Phoenix.