- Michelle Smith, Contributor, espnW.com
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PHOENIX -- Asked what she would remember about this Memorial Day, her first on the court as a professional basketball player, Brittney Griner replied unsentimentally.
"I need to stay on the floor. Keep my feet on the floor," she said. "I'm already tall enough. I don't need to jump."
Which is precisely, absolutely the right answer the Phoenix Mercury want to hear from their rookie phenomenon.
They don't want to hear about how fondly she will recall the T-shirts that read "Welcome Brittney Griner" all over the arena, the pictures she took in the stands with the fans during warm-ups or the fact that she quickly took her place in the WNBA history books by becoming the first player to dunk twice in a game.
Because, under the harshest light, it all happened on a day the Mercury lost. Chicago's surprisingly thorough 102-80 victory marred this much-anticipated opening day at U.S. Airways Center.
Coach Corey Gaines called it a "butt kicking."
Candice Dupree said it was "horrible."
And Griner said it was not the beginning she was hoping for.
"I don't think it went as planned," Griner said. "I wish it was a win."
Over in the Chicago locker room, however, Elena Delle Donne wasn't experiencing any such regret. Delle Donne was relaxed, smiling and taking a little ribbing from teammates as an NBA staffer came in to help her unhook the microphone she had hidden in her jersey.
It clearly did not weigh her down.
Delle Donne looked pro-ready and spotlight-worthy, scoring 22 points to go with eight rebounds and four blocks in her WNBA debut. She scored 16 first-half points to vault the Sky to a 56-32 halftime lead.
Shooting 7-of-10 from the floor in the first half, she was smooth and strong and confident. When Phoenix changed up its defense, even putting Griner on Delle Donne for a time, she slowed, adding six points in the second on 2-of-11 shooting. But there was nothing at all wrong with that game as a starting point for a career that already looks like it's going to be fruitful.
Delle Donne said she had a few butterflies when she came out for warm-ups but thinks she was more nervous for her first college game at Delaware four years ago.
"It's been an eternity since the draft, and I've been waiting for this first game," Delle Donne said. "It feels like an eternity, so I'm glad it went so well."
Delle Donne had few touches through most of the first quarter, settling into the game, finding her spots.
"I have always tried to let the game come to me, not to force things," Delle Donne said. "At first I wasn't getting open looks, so I tried to find my teammates."
The Sky so thoroughly dominated Monday's game that Chicago looks like an instant postseason contender. Even as some of the Sky's best players, such as Swin Cash (seven points) and Sylvia Fowles (nine points, 10 rebounds), had relatively quiet days, Chicago owned this game behind Delle Donne and a 26-point effort from guard Epiphanny Prince. Point guard Courtney Vandersloot, who has gained 15 pounds and a lot of confidence under coach Pokey Chatman, added 14 points.
Even as Phoenix cut a 24-point lead to 12, the Sky kept their heads and went on a 12-0 run to push the lead back to 24 points in the early moments of the fourth quarter.
"It was nice to see everybody come together and play very well," Price said. "We had the ball, the passes went very well, we had assists, we had rebounds, we just clicked on everything."
The Mercury, meanwhile, clicked on precious little. The offense was ragged, good shots tough to find. The defense, well, was not good; it gave up 39 points in the second quarter.
"We did some good things but not nearly enough," said Mercury guard Diana Taurasi, who finished with a team-high 18 points.
Griner's game falls under that heading. She finished with 17 points, eight rebounds and four blocks. The dunks were impressive (a one-handed baseline jam on the first and a two-hander through the lane on the second), made history and made the building vibrate with excitement. But they didn't change the outcome.
The 22 minutes Griner spent on the bench in foul trouble in the first half, having picked up her third foul with 2:35 to go in the first quarter, likely had more impact.
"It was very frustrating sitting on the bench," Griner said. "That's stuff I know. I should have known better."
The team some experts have tabbed as the one to beat for the WNBA title looks like it has a lot of work to do. Because instead of opening the season with a statement win, one that says, "Yep, we are as good as you all think we are," the Mercury's starting point was flawed and humbling.
"Whether you are a rookie or a veteran today, it doesn't matter," Taurasi said. "This was a nice little wake-up call for us in the first game of the season."
In the second, third and fourth games of the season, the Mercury head on the road to play at Seattle, Minnesota and Indiana.
Welcome Brittney Griner indeed.
17dBonnie D. Ford