Brittney Griner was done serving her seven-game suspension at the start of the season. And the moment she entered the floor for the Mercury, we knew they would go to the 6-foot-8 big on both ends most of the time.
On offense, Griner gives Phoenix the back-to-basket game that it missed during its first seven games. On defense, she provides elite rim protection, having swatted 129 shots in the 2014 regular season, while having altered a thousand more.
And right in the first possession after the Mercury won the tip, the team fed Griner the ball although she missed a jumper. Two possessions after, Griner would score off a DeWanna Bonner entry pass for her first two points of the season.
Three more minutes later and Griner would record her first block of the season on a driving layup attempt by Rebekkah Brunson. The game was tied at four apiece with the Mercury certainly looking like they have control, before a key adjustment from the Lynx flipped the switch.
Griner's defensive assignment, Brunson, made it a habit to stay out of the paint at all times on offense and sometimes on the weak side to prevent Griner from helping out and protecting the rim. Too bad, the WNBA is covered by the defensive 3 in the key rule, and it made things difficult for Griner.
Minnesota's bigs initiated the offense by using a horns-esque set where they would position themselves on opposite elbows (high post). It drew the interior defense of Phoenix a little out, and opened the floodgates for the Lynx to attack.
Seimone Augustus and Maya Moore took advantage of this opportunity to shoot from the perimeter off pin downs, curls, off-ball movement, or driving to the hoop.
When it comes to defense, the Lynx shut down Griner by throwing double- or triple-teams all the time whenever she is on the strong side. The Lynx didn't seem to bother leaving the other Mercury players wide open on the opposite end as long as they would contain Griner underneath. It paid dividends as Griner only had nine field goal attempts with the defense limiting the touches and denying her the entry passes.
This is where the Mercury needed more floor-spacers and three-point threats to complement their big. While Griner is a decent passer off double-teams on the low block, she had trouble fighting off the Lynx defense. She finished with 14 points and 11 rebounds although did not have an assist. The Mercury shot only 3-for-12 from the three-point area.
Phoenix also lacked a creator. While Bonner was aggressive (9-for-10 free-throw attempts), she tended to force shots and lose control. Bonner led her team with 18 points, 7 rebounds, and 4 assists although shot 4-for-13 from the field. Overall, Phoenix assisted only 12 makes, a shade below its league-worst 13.5 assists/game.
On the other end, Minnesota played with cohesion. They relied on the hot-shooting of Maya Moore from three-point land where she hit 4-for-5 to wound up with 21 points, 5 rebounds, 6 assists, and 5 steals.
Brunson provided a double-double with 14 points and 13 rebounds to go with 3 blocks. Lindsay Whalen added 21 points, 4 rebounds, and 3 assists in the win that pushed the Lynx to 7-2, just half a game behind the Tulsa Shock (7-1). The Mercury dropped to 3-5 as they went almost exclusively to Griner, although hopefully they find the perfect blend soon.