Sensational sophomore Brittney Griner is having the same impact in the WNBA as Lew Alcindor (later known as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) had in his early NBA career with the Milwaukee Bucks. Griner has emerged as a key reason that the Phoenix Mercury ended their season with a league record 29 regular season wins.
The regular season finale versus the Seattle Storm, one of the WNBA’s signature franchises, saw Griner post 18 points and grab 10 for a 78-65 triumph, providing the Mercury with its 29th win. Her performance was complemented by Candice Dupree, who provided a 16-point output.
Ironically, the former record of 28 wins was shared by Seattle. They posted a 28-6 mark in 2010, which tied the Los Angeles Sparks, who reached the 28 wins plateau twice in franchise history (2000 and 2001). The loss finishes a difficult season for Seattle which saw the club post a dismal 12-22 mark, missing the postseason for the first time since 2003.
Adding to the irony is the fact that the first-round opponent for the record-breaking Phoenix franchise shall be Los Angeles. Of note, Phoenix swept the regular season series with LA, prevailing in all five contests. Last season, the clubs clashed in the postseason as Phoenix prevailed.
The jubilation for Phoenix was enhanced by the fact that the club shot 54 percent from the field, marking the 18th time this season they reached that they shot at least 50 percent from the floor. In the regular season, Phoenix had a 48.4 overall shooting percentage, a league record. The former record of 47.4 was set by the 2013 WNBA champion Minnesota Lynx.
Of note, Phoenix and Minnesota met in the 2013 Western Conference finals, with Minnesota prevailing. Led by Maya Moore, it is highly likely that their paths shall cross again in the postseason. For Phoenix, the ability to dispose of Minnesota in the playoffs will only enhance their standing as the league’s best team this season. Just like the Chicago Bulls record-setting NBA season in 1995-96 that encompassed 72 regular season wins, a championship was crucial to justify their season.
Taking into account that Diana Taurasi, who played collegiately at Connecticut like Moore, won a title in 2007 and 2009, is accustomed to the pressure that comes with winning, she will need to be a crucial leader as Griner looks to win her first title.