Atlanta, GA -- One game removed from being ejected in the loss to the New York Liberty, Phoenix Mercury star forward Brittney Griner posted a triple-double against the Atlanta Dream in a 95-87 nail-biter that was a toss up until the very last minutes of the game.
"She was a game-changer on defense, and that's what we needed from her," said Mercury head coach Sandy Brondello. "It hasn't always been consistent throughout the season this year, but that's what she's capable of, and hopefully she'll bring it every night."
In a back-and-forth game that saw 17 ties and eight lead changes, it was Griner's performance that helped propel the Mercury over the persistent Dream. The forward finished the first half with 19 points on 7-for-9 shooting as Phoenix took a 50-44 lead into halftime after trailing 27-20 at the end of the first quarter.
Atlanta's third-quarter performance stifled Phoenix, as the Dream outscored the Mercury 26-15. Griner's foul trouble then caught up to her as she got her fourth foul with just over two minutes left to go in the quarter.
Atlanta held a five-point lead over the Mercury at the start of the fourth, and momentum continued to swing in their favor as six quick points kept them out in front 76-68.
Atlanta's one-two punch of Tiffany Hayes and Angel McCoughtry exploded for 15 combined points in the quarter--and 48 in the overall contest--allowed Atlanta to hang on to their lead until 4:07 left to in the game. But it was Phoenix's game from then on out, with the help of Griner's presence on defense.
"It was her most complete game," Brondello said. "She was getting in foul trouble like with a lot of our games, which really takes her out of her rhythm, but she came back. She's a mentally tough player, and they were playing just single coverage on her for the most part, which allowed her to get some deep post-ups and help us."
Despite the accolades already under her belt--WNBA champion, three-time all-star and two-time defensive player of the year--Sunday's 27 points, 10 rebounds and 10 blocks is still an impressive feat. And in an 8-10 season by the Mercury, Griner is finally coming into her own to try to help turn Phoenix's season around.
"We've had a very interesting season so far," Griner said. "We started off up and down, but it's an upside coming for us. We just have to weather the storm."
Griner's journey in the WNBA, however, shiny on the court, has not been so smooth off. The third-year player's relationship with fellow WNBA player Glory Johnson, was the center of controversy when the two were suspended for seven games in 2015 following a domestic violence case that ended in Griner pleading guilty for disorderly conduct.
However, much like after her suspension, last game's ejection, and Sunday's foul trouble, Griner is all about comebacks, and the Phoenix hope she can help them make one of their own.
"We're just going to erase what happened last game," Griner said jokingly. "Other than that, I think I'm starting to turn it on now."