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Griner, Taurasi wreak havoc as Phoenix retires Taylor’s jersey

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Capturing her fourth 30+ point performance on the year, Brittney Griner’s MVP caliber season rages on while Diana Taurasi’s three-point prowess helped the Mercury avoid a season sweep to New York. 

Barry Gossage - NBAE/Getty Images

Phoenix, AZ -- Brittney Griner and Diana Taurasi obviously didn’t think a jersey retirement ceremony was quite enough to honor Penny Taylor, a WNBA great and the woman who helped Phoenix claim three championships. So in an explosive offensive display, Griner and Taurasi’s 50 combined points put the icing on Taylor’s special night and lifted the Mercury to a commanding 81-69 victory over the New York Liberty.

“We’re playing well; you know we’re playing well as a team,” stated Phoenix’ head coach Sandy Brondello. “We’ve done a good job improving and obviously BG (Brittney Griner) and D (Diana Taurasi) offensively are stellar.”

Griner and Taurasi owned the night from tipoff to final buzzer, accounting for 24 of the Mercury’s 26 first quarter points. Griner, in only the way that a league leader in scoring knows how, scored 10 of her team’s first 15 points off of perfect 5-of-5 shooting.

Meanwhile, Taurasi went 3-of-4 from long range in the first frame. The deadly combination of Griner’s post moves plus improved midrange game and Taurasi’s assassin-like shooting from the perimeter gave the Mercury a 26-19 lead after the first quarter.

Griner’s shot-making in the second quarter resembled a mismatched game of “Horse,” as she seemed to raise her difficulty level with each attempted and made shot: a baby hook, a jumper at the elbow, and a turnaround jumper with two seconds on the shot clock midway through the period.

Failing to get to the line a single time in the first two quarters and choosing instead to make use of a ferocious midrange game, Griner proved that she has crafted herself into an inside and outside scoring threat.

“She made shots,” said Liberty head coach Bill Laimbeer. “The turn-around jump shots from all over the basketball court aren’t normally her style, but tonight it really worked for her. That was probably the difference in the game.”

Griner would finish the first half with 20 points to go with Taurasi’s 16, handing the Mercury a 51-42 halftime lead.

Also key for Griner was her ability to match the physicality of the WNBA’s top rebounding team without getting into foul trouble early —she had only amassed one foul at the midway point of the third quarter.

Griner’s dominance on both ends coupled with Taurasi’s premier facilitating helped the Mercury maintain a comfortable double-digit lead for the remainder of the game.

While it’s easy to become enthralled by Griner and Taurasi’s offensive firepower, these two WNBA greats are far from one-dimensional. Tonight’s victory was a testament to their contributions on the defensive end as well as their facilitating. Griner had six blocks and showed off her touch with a sweet dish to Angel Robinson in the final minute of the first half.

Taurasi also added four assists. In a SportsCenter Top 10 worthy play, she sent a dime to Griner, that ended in a cutting layup — and sent Griner over the 30-point threshold.

Perhaps most impressive about this dynamic duo’s outing was the fact they did it against a Liberty defense that leads the league in scoring percentage allowed to opponents (40.7%). In fact, the Mercury found that out the hard way in their first two encounters with New York earlier this year, shooting 35% or worse in both contests.

“They (New York Liberty) kind of embarrassed us when we went out there to New York, just jumped on us in that first half,” said Griner. “So we knew we were going to have to do something a bit different. We had to take it to them and not let them get to us first.”

Staying true to that vow, Phoenix stepped up under pressure and executed beautifully. Led by Taurasi and Griner, Phoenix shot 48% from the floor and went 6-of-18 from three-point range thanks to Taurasi’s five daggers from deep.

Taurasi’s long-range shots along with a few other points brought her total to 19 points, five rebounds and four assists. Griner finished the night with a game-high 31 points, six blocks, two assists, and 13 rebounds.

A bright spot for the Liberty was Tina Charles, who seems to only be getting better with age. The seven-year veteran posted 29 points and eight rebounds, marking her third straight game with 20 or more points.

Griner admitted that tonight’s performance was the players’ way of paying tribute to Penny Taylor. “You know we did this for Penny. It is Penny’s night so we had to get a win for her.”

With the victory, Phoenix captures three wins in a row for the first time all year and will continue their home stand on Wednesday against Atlanta at 10 pm ET. New York concludes their road trip and heads home to take on the Chicago Sky on Friday at 7:30 pm ET.