Against all odds, Brittney Griner is on pace for one of the best seasons of her WNBA career
- Brittney Griner played her first WNBA games this weekend since returning from Russian detainment.
- The 6-foot-9 superstar looked as good as ever — and maybe even better — in the two contests.
Momentum was on the Phoenix Mercury's side as they chipped away at Chicago's double-digit lead late in the third quarter of Sunday's contest — their first home game featuring franchise superstar Brittney Griner in two years.
The raucous crowd, 14,040 fans strong, roared as the Mercury swung the ball around the perimeter to find a wide-open Sug Sutton, who sank a three from the corner to cut the Sky's lead to eight. An empty possession on the other end of the floor gave Phoenix a chance to further close the gap, and Sutton bolted down the floor looking to capitalize in transition.
But as the defense closed in around her, she looked back to find Griner trailing the play and whipped the ball back to the 6-foot-9 center. She didn't hesitate for a second; Griner immediately moved into her shooting motion and casually knocked down a shot from beyond the arc.
The Footprint Center erupted.
"I'm back!" Griner shouted to the crowd, pounding a fist into her chest.
—WNBA (@WNBA) May 21, 2023
"That moment was very special, honestly," Griner said during her press conference following Phoenix's 69-75 loss. "It took me back to my last season playing. It just felt really good."
That last season playing — the 2021 WNBA campaign — saw the Mercury make a run all the way to the finals. Griner enjoyed an MVP-caliber campaign that year, averaging a whopping 20.5 points, 9.5 rebounds, and 1.9 blocks per game during the regular season.
Sunday's homecoming was, somehow, even better than that. The eight-time WNBA All-Star poured in a game-high 27 points on 69.2% shooting from the floor, adding 10 rebounds and four blocks to her explosive offensive performance.
Through the first weekend of the season — and her first two games back in the WNBA since spending 10 agonizing months detained in Russia — Griner ranks top-10 in the league in points, defensive rebounds, and blocks per game. She also owns the second-highest efficiency rating of all WNBA players thus far in the season.
Griner has managed not only to come back in peak form, but also to expand her game while working her way back to the hardwood. Three-pointers were never part of the two-time Olympic gold medalist's offensive arsenal; that long-range shot Griner drained late in the third quarter Sunday was only the sixth three-pointer of her 10-year WNBA career.
"I was working on it before I left, remember?" Griner told ESPN's Holly Rowe of her three-point shot during a mid-game interview. "I've just been working on it since I got back. I was like, perfect timing. I'm working on everything else, might as well work on that, too."
It's working. While it's still premature to speculate, Griner's currently on pace for one of the best seasons of her already-illustrious WNBA career — and, perhaps, one of the greatest comeback stories in the history of sports.
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