Cambage wins the battle, but Griner wins the war
By Patrick Ralph
The WNBA is a league dominated by bigs and frontcourt players and that philosophy was exemplified once again in the season opener Friday between the Wings and Mercury.
The matchup featured a showdown between two star centers: 6-foot-8 Liz Cambage of the Wings and 6-foot-9 Brittney Griner of the Mercury. The duet didn’t disappoint, combining for 31 points, 16 rebounds and 4 blocked shots.
While Cambage had the more impressive night individually, it was Griner’s second-half defense that helped the Mercury fly past the Wings, 86-78.
The 26-year-old Cambage, who had not played in a WNBA game since 2013 when the Wings were still known as the Tulsa Shock, made her presence felt from the start.
Offensively, Dallas was getting the ball inside to Cambage early and often. The Wings let their center go to work against Griner, who is arguably the best defensive center in the WNBA. Along with establishing herself around the basket by scoring at will, Cambage also dominated the glass against Griner and Phoenix’s frontcourt. Cambage’s dominance had Griner in foul trouble, as she picked up two fouls quickly in the first quarter and came within one of fouling out.
Defensively, Cambage’s size and presence in the paint alone was deterring Mercury players from driving the lane and trying to score around the rim. Along with blocking two shots in the contest, Cambage was able to hold the All-Star Griner to only 4-of-12 shooting.
Cambage finished the first half with 14 points on 6-of-9 shooting, and she helped Dallas take complete control of the paint against Phoenix. Along with outrebounding the Mercury 22-12, the Wings outscored Phoenix 24-8 in the paint in the first half.
The second half would be a different story for Cambage. Griner held Cambage to only four points on 1-of-5 shooting after halftime. Behind Griner’s stifling defense, the Mercury were able to take Cambage out of the game and make her all but a non-factor. Her four second-half points all came in the fourth quarter.
While Cambage finished the night with 18 points, 9 rebounds, and 2 blocks, it was almost entirely accumulated in the first half as Griner began to impose her will after intermission. Griner finished with 13 points, 7 rebounds and 2 blocks.
On a night where she became the first WNBA player to hit 1,000 career three-pointers, Diana Taurasi finished with a game-high 26 points.
In her first WNBA game since 2016, DeWanna Bonner returned in an impressive fashion with a double-double of 17 points and 12 rebounds. Along with her double-double, Bonner showed her defensive prowess with a team-high three steals and three blocks in the game. Bonner’s plus-minus (+9) was the highest of any Mercury player on opening night.
The point guard duet of Briann January and Leilani Mitchell each scored 10 points and finished with a combined nine assists for the Mercury.
It was an overall impressive night on both ends of the floor for Phoenix. The Mercury shot 41 percent from the field and 42 percent from three, while holding Dallas to 36 percent from the field and a cold 20 percent from three.
Along with collecting 10 blocks and five steals, Phoenix’s ability to take away the three from Dallas was significant to their win. The Mercury’s defense was also able to hold off a late charge from All-Star Skylar Diggins-Smith, who scored 16 of her 18 points in the second half.
The Mercury were outrebounded by Dallas 40-32, including a 12-3 advantage for the Wings on the offensive glass, and outscored by over 20 points in the paint.