Sky defeat Mercury, spoiling Griner's 1st home game since Russian detainment

Kahleah Copper scored 15 points and the visiting Chicago Sky spoiled Brittney Griner's regular-season home debut, holding on down the stretch for a 75-69 win over the Phoenix Mercury on Sunday.

Stewart scores franchise-record 45 points as Liberty beat Fever; Sun rally past Mystics

A female basketball player wearing number 42 holds the ball with both hands out of reach of a defender.
Brittney Griner of the Phoenix Mercury handles the ball as Elizabeth Williams of the Chicago Sky defends during the first half of Chicago's 75-69 win on Sunday at the Footprint Center in Phoenix. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Kahleah Copper scored 15 points and the visiting Chicago Sky spoiled Brittney Griner's regular-season home debut, holding on down the stretch for a 75-69 win over the Phoenix Mercury on Sunday.

Griner finished with 27 points, 10 rebounds and four blocked shots in her first regular-season home game since being released after spending more than 10 months in a Russian prison.

She nor the Mercury could do enough to pull out the win.

Chicago led by 11 in the second half, but Phoenix pulled within 66-64 on Diana Taurasi's three-pointer with three minutes left. After the Sky pushed the lead back to five, Griner scored on a three-point play to make it 69-67 and the Mercury forced a miss.

Chicago's Dana Evans then hit a running bank shot sandwiched between two Phoenix turnovers and Rebekah Gardner hit two free throws to seal it with 16 seconds left.

Evans finished with 13 points and Courtney Williams added 12 for the Sky (2-0).

Taurasi had 16 points and Sug Sutton added 13 for Phoenix (0-2).

Griner had 18 points in the Mercury's season opener, a 94-71 loss to the Los Angeles Sparks Friday night.

Massive ovation

Griner received a massive ovation during player introductions in her first regular-season home game in a year and a half.

"There might have been a little dust in my eye, a little dusty," she said. "It was emotional being back stage, seeing some of the clips."

Many fans wore Griner's 42 jersey and some waved small black towels with "BG" on the front. One young fan held a sign that said "We [heart] BG. Welcome home!"

During warmups, Griner shared hugs with her teammates, Sky players and Chicago coach James Wade, who had coached her overseas. Just as warmups were winding down, Mercury guard Sophie Cunningham grabbed a microphone near midcourt and addressed the crowd.

"Last year, all we wanted was to get BG home. We did that and we're all together now," Cunningham said.

Just before player introductions, a poet paid tribute to Griner while being surrounded by the Mercury's dancers.

The six-foot-nine centre won the opening tip, took her familiar position in the low post and opened the game with a three-point play.

"It just took me back to being on the plane [home]," Griner said. "It felt really great. A crazy moment."

Both teams struggled getting shots to fall early until Copper got hot.

The Chicago forward hit consecutive three-pointers midway through the second quarter and added a driving layup to put the Sky up 37-26.

Cooper had 13 points by halftime and the Sky led 41-35.

Chicago pushed the lead to 51-41 early in the third quarter, but Griner brought the fans to life and out of their seats with a three-pointer that pulled Phoenix within 58-53 late in the third quarter.

"We didn't we didn't finish the job by getting a win tonight, but I'm just continuing to be impressed with BG," Mercury coach Vanessa Nygaard said. "BG is somebody that can handle so many things clearly that many people could not handle."

Stewart's historic performance leads Liberty past Fever

Breanna Stewart scored a franchise-record 45 points and New York beat Indiana 90-73 on Sunday, handing the visiting Fever a 20th consecutive loss that matched the WNBA record for futility.

The Fever equalled the Tulsa Shock, who lost 20 straight games in 2011. Indiana lost 18 consecutive games to close out last season before falling to the Connecticut Sun on Friday in their opener. Indiana plays at Atlanta next Sunday.

New York rebuilt its team this off-season adding Stewart, Jonquel Jones and Courtney Vandersloot to a strong young core led by Ionescu and Betnijah Laney. There are high expectations surrounding the Liberty this season, although it will take some time for the team to build chemistry.

Stewart, who also set a new career-high for points, welcomed the home-opening crowd before the tip-off saying it was great to be home.

The new trio got New York going early as they scored the first four baskets. Jones hit a layup, Stewart two three-pointers and a reverse layup by Vandersloot as the Liberty were quick out of the gate.

By the time the first quarter ended, Stewart had 19 points — five more than Indiana — and New York led 36-14. She made six of her seven shots in the period, including four three-pointers.

Stewart finished the half with 29 points, short of the league record 35 held by Riquna Williams.

New York led 62-35 at the break and never looked back.

The only real suspense in the second half was whether Stewart could break the single-game franchise scoring mark of 40 held by Cappie Pondexter set also against Indiana in 2010.

Stewart broke that record on a three-point play with 2:13 left in the third quarter to put New York up 82-52. She finished the game going 15-of-21 from the field, including hitting six three-pointers. She was also 9-for-9 from the foul line and had 12 rebounds.

Despite the lopsided loss, there is optimism around the Fever with the addition of No. 1 pick Aliyah Boston, who scored 15 points.

"I'd say there is nothing but positivity around here right now," said Fever second-year forward NaLyssa Smith, who had 16 points and 12 rebounds. "Everyone is excited for our future."

Bonner scores 21 as Sun rally past Mystics

DeWanna Bonner scored 21 points, Alyssa Thomas had 14 points, 16 rebounds, six assists and three steals to help the Connecticut Sun rally from a 12-point deficit to beat the visiting Washington Mystics 80-74 Sunday.

Brionna Jones added 15 points and 10 rebounds for Connecticut (2-0).

Shakira Austin scored a career-high 21 points and grabbed 11 rebounds and Elena Delle Donne had 19 points and also had 11 boards for the Mystics (1-1).

Tyasha Harris hit a three-pointer to close the third quarter and pull the Sun within a point and Jones made a putback to give the Sun their first lead of the game early in the fourth quarter before Rebecca Allen hit a 3 to cap a 13-2 run and make it 67-60 with 5:59 remaining.

Connecticut never again trailed.

Delle Donne, a two-time WNBA MVP, missed a clean look in the paint that would've made it a one-possession game with 37 seconds left and then fouled out about 10 seconds later.

The teams play again in Washington on Tuesday.

Stefanie White — who last coached in the WNBA with Indiana from 2015-16 and helped the Fever to back-to-back playoff berths including a trip to the 2015 WNBA Finals — replaced Curt Miller, now with the Los Angeles Sparks, as Connecticut's coach in November. Meanwhile, four-time all-star and 2021 WNBA MVP Jonquel Jones forced a trade in the off-season from the Sun to the New York Liberty after helping club to back-to-back Finals appearances and three straight trips to the Eastern Conference Finals.

Delle Donne made a layup to spark a 10-0 run that gave Washington a 14-3 lead when she capped the spurt with a pull-up jumper midway through the first quarter. The Mystics led until Jones grabbed an offensive rebound and scored in the lane to make it 59-58 with eight minutes to play.

Kelly Broomfield limped off the court with an apparent ankle injury in the third quarter and did not return, leaving just two officials the rest of the game.