Analysis: In a game of big plays, Griner makes the biggest

September 24, 2013 - 4:52pm
Phoenix Mercury Rookie Brittney Griner hits the game winning shot over the Sparks Candace Parker to clinch the series. (Photo by Lee Michaelson)

Phoenix Mercury Rookie Brittney Griner hits the game winning shot over the Sparks Candace Parker to clinch the series. (Photo by Lee Michaelson)

Phoenix 78, Los Angeles 77

Brittney Griner, welcome to stardom – well, the WNBA version at least.

Everyone has predicted it throughout the year, and with one turnaround baseline jumper, over two-time MVP Candace Parker mind you, the WNBA and world have officially added the stamp of approval that Brittney Griner is a star no matter what level she’s playing at.

What an exciting game three -- clearly one of the most enjoyable and competitive games of the year. You add the stakes to that and you’ve got an instant classic. So many playmakers and stars on the floor for each team, there was no way to know who would step up.

All game it was a back-and-forth battle, each team taking the other team’s best punch. Parker on the layup, Taurasi answers with a big shot, Harding to the hole -- what a spin move -- this was basketball at its finest.

One factor that made the game so special is that everyone played great. All of the stars that lined the court last night came and made plays at crucial points. Well, Griner was relatively quiet but when you close the show like she did then it supersedes everything else. More on that later, but yes, everyone showed up when the lights were on.

One player who it was encouraging to see play well was Kristi Toliver. She’d been dreadful shooting the ball in the first two games. She had made a measly four of 22 shots coming into this pivotal matchup and it got so bad that Toliver, one of the best pure shooters in the league, was passing up wide open jump shots because she lost her confidence. Never thought I’d see that day.

But those shooting woes were a distant memory in game three. She was aggressive, relentless and all in all, effective, not to mention she had a sweet third-period buzzer-beating jump shot that electrified Staples Center.

A similar story could be told about Mercury’s shooting guard DeWanna Bonner, who had a tough time getting the ball to drop the first two games but was dynamic in this big decisive win. With her size, ballhandling ability and shooting range Bonner creates a matchup nightmare for virtually every team they face.

Bonner found so many ways to score. Three-point shots, layups, step-throughs…she had it all going. The only criticism with her is that she typically never sees a shot she doesn’t like. Deep in the game on some very crucial possessions, the ball got stuck in her hands with the shot clock winding down and she chunked up a few long, very long, three-point shots that really didn’t come close.

This is where Bonner could be so much more effective and efficient: Avoid the easy route by just shooting a three. Instead drive the ball and get to the hole or to the line from a foul even though her thin frame may make her averse to getting in there and taking contact. Bonner shot the ball 19 times Monday, and on the bright side she hit eight. On the not so bright side, how do you shoot the ball 19 times and not go to the line one time? Even the worst referees are going to give you some calls if you’re aggressive enough to go in the lane a few times.

Bonner could be a true star in the league, but she has to use that 6-4 frame for more than seeing over defenders for a three-point shot. But regardless, she played a heck of a game for the Mercury in the big win, and her doubleteam on Parker on the final L.A. possession was excellent defense.

Bonner, Diana Taurasi and Candice Dupree carried the team for much of the game. Taurasi and Dupree ran the pick-and-roll like a work of art, and even though it seems it would work better with the 6-8 Griner, she doesn’t have the range yet to be very effective running it. Griner is better receiving the ball on the block as well as being down there already to gather herself to get the rebound.

Still, we all know Griner was the real star, the superstar of the night -- what a performance. Yes, I said performance, not shot.

People have said that she didn’t have that great of a game but what people have to understand is that she doesn’t get shots. She only shot the ball six times last night, and made three of them. For the series she’s 12 for 21, a fantastic shooting percentage (57.1 percent). In a way, the Mercury don’t need her to shoot because they have so much firepower, but then again when you have a player THAT effective then get her the rock. Taurasi, then Griner, then everyone else.

It’s so interesting to watch what happens when the pressure is at its peak. That’s when you separate the good players from the stars, and the stars from the superstars. How do they handle the pressure? Granted you’re not going to make every shot or win every game, but again it’s more of how the player handles that bright light shining on them. I must say that as I watched those last few minutes, the Sparks looked nervous, really nervous.

Go back and watch their last few possessions and watch how frantic many of their players are as they pass the ball. The pressure clearly affected them, and even though Parker got a layup on an inbounds play when they had to have it to take the lead back, they got nothing out of their final possession.

Griner, though, relished the moment, knew the MVP was on her and still turned around so simply and put the ball up. It was the rookie who ate the pressure for dessert -- virtuoso! What a shot, what a player.

Next up for Griner, Taurasi, Dupree and company? A gargantuan matchup with Seimone Augustus, Maya Moore, Lindsey Whalen and the three-time Western Conference champion Minnesota Lynx.

Just when you thought it couldn’t get any better, huh? Love it!