Phoenix, AZ — The season opening match-up between the Phoenix Mercury and the Dallas Wings was preemptive to the excitement with both teams revealing nearly unrecognizable rosters to begin the 2017 WNBA season.
Which team would prove their newfound team chemistry, that would lead them victorious over the other?
The Mercury had only two returners remain from their 2017 roster. They happened to be two of the biggest names in the league: Britney Griner, a two-time league defensive MVP, and Diana Taurasi a 12-year veteran — and arguably the greatest to lace them up. Taurasi entered the game with a chance to set a new WNBA record, if she could make seven three-pointers — and many were hoping to see the feat accomplished tonight.
But even bigger than that, something more historic transpired: this was the first ever WNBA game to be broadcasted live on Twitter, with 19 league games following throughout the season.
Eager to bounce back from one of the worst records in the league last season, Dallas was yearning for good health and leadership from its returners, and its newest additions to make an impact.
The Wings showcased five new rookies to their lineup; unheard of in the league since 2000. Two of these rookies, from the NCAA Champions South Carolina, Kaela Davis and Allisha Gray.
The home team with their “X-Factor” loud and proud in the Talking Stick Resort Arena, started off hot with Griner leading the charge.
“I think early with that pace and rhythm that we were playing with, that suits us. I think when D Rob (Danielle Robinson) when she was pushing and creating for us, we were pretty hard to stop,” stated Taurasi.
Phoenix remained in the lead to end the half, but Dallas was hot on their tails. The Wings’ were able to saddle Griner with foul trouble, and when she sat, Wings guard Davis stood up — and out. By the end of the second period, she already had 10 points off the bench.
“I just think you have to remind yourself it’s basketball. That’s one thing being a young player you don’t want to lose sight of is pack ourselves up and walk ourselves out a little bit. It’s basketball,” stated Davis on her performance.
“I think as well as coming off the bench, you get some minutes in and kind of sit and see how the game is going, what’s working for people, what’s not. I think that part of it is helpful, but it’s basketball.”
The young guard spearheaded a huge Dallas run, which had them only down by two at halftime, 34-32. And that momentum carried over into the third, as the Wings continued to chip away, bit by bit, and what was a small deficit, became a small lead in a blink of an eye, 45-39.
One conundrum that the Mercury were facing, with their control of the game dwindling, was the cold streak of Griner. She struggled to regain her rhythm, after having to sit many minutes in the first half. But Phoenix’s point guard picked up the immense slack.
A hungry Leilani Mitchell fought to tie the game at 45-45, hitting back-to-back, crowd igniting, three-pointers. And although Dallas had a two point leading heading into the final stanza, one could sense the Mercury were back in a groove, so it seemed.
Griner found the basket again in the fourth, unfortunately, for the Mercury, she was the only person who had it going offensively, which allowed the Wings to keep their lead. Thanks to a complete turnaround from the opening period, Dallas sealed the deal in the fourth with a 10-point victory over Phoenix, 68-58.
The Wings’ first win of the season could be attributed to their strong defense and solid rebounding. Dallas outrebounded Phoenix by an insane 41-17, thanks in part to Glory Johnson who was constantly in motion; she came from all angles to secure 14 rebounds to lead the Wings.
“I think if I can’t do anything else I know that I can rebound. It’s a little bit of effort and hard work, but at the end of the day if my offensive game isn’t there, even on defense I get scored on a little bit, at least crash the boards on offense and defense. At least trying I know I can help my team that way if anything else” verbalized Johnson.
Although quiet in scoring (seven points), Skylar Diggins-Smith did the little things to contribute to the win.
However, this night belonged to Davis, who alongside her rookie teammate Gray, had the most impact for Dallas. The fresh faces of Gray and Davis combined for 31 points and 8 rebounds.
“I felt they started great out at the two-guard slot for me. She [Allisha Gray] was a little nervous and Davis coming off the bench, they have great size where I can do combinations and switch-outs. I just told them, ‘Just play aggressive---This is your first WNBA game and just go out and play like you would in the collegiate world,” head Coach Fred Williams stated on his rookies tonight.
It’s only one game, but if it’s any indication of what’s to come, the immediate future looks much brighter for the young Dallas Wings.