PHOENIX (AP) — Brittney Griner got the dunks in her debut, becoming the first WNBA player to do it twice in one game.
Elena Delle Donne had the better game and got the rout against the player picked ahead of her in the draft.
Delle Donne outplayed No. 1 overall draft Brittney Griner and had one of the best rookie debuts in WNBA history, scoring 22 points to lead the Chicago Sky to a 102-80 victory over the Phoenix Mercury on Monday.
“Today was absolutely amazing,” said Delle Donne, whose debut was sixth-best in league history. “We came here to get a win and that’s what we’re leaving with.”
The fans inside US Airways Center and on national TV tuned in to see Griner dunk and the Mercury’s above-the-rim-playing center didn’t disappoint, throwing down a one-hander early in the fourth quarter and a vicious two-handed in the closing minutes. That put her in select company, joining Candace Parker (twice) and Lisa Leslie as the only WNBA players to dunk in a regular-season game.
The double dunks turned out to be little more than a highlight-reel sideshow to the Sky’s dominating performance.
Led by Delle Donne’s 16 points, Chicago took advantage of Griner’s early foul trouble and raced out to a 24-point lead halftime lead.
Even when Phoenix tried to make a run and Griner got her dunks, the Sky didn’t fold, keeping the lead in double digits on the way to handing the Mercury their most lopsided home-opening loss.
Epiphanny Prince had 26 points and five assists, Courtney Vandersloot added 14 points and Delle Donne, No. 2 overall pick behind Griner, had eight rebounds for Chicago.
“I think it’s a really good starting point for our team,” Sky coach Pokey Chatman said.
Griner finished with solid numbers in her debut: 17 points, eight rebounds, four blocked shots and two history-making dunks.
The problem was that the 6-foot-8 center picked up her third foul with 2 1-2 minutes left in the first quarter and had with two points in nine first-half minutes.
Without Griner, the Mercury had trouble stopping Chicago inside and gave up too many offensive rebounds, allowing the Sky to build a huge lead that was never really threatened.
Diana Taurasi had 18 points and four assists, and Candice Dupree added 15 points for Phoenix.
“In the second half, she played well, but she can’t do anything when she’s on the bench,” Mercury coach Corey Gaines said of Griner. “It’s a learning experience.”
Griner came into the WNBA with expectations unlike any other player in league history.
With a wingspan of 7-foot-4 and agility more like a much smaller player, Griner blocked more shots than anyone in NCAA history, man or woman, and changed the below-the-rim perception of women’s basketball with 18 dunks.
Griner turned a national spotlight toward the WNBA and the Mercury in particular, adding a big piece to a team already loaded with stars like Taurasi, Penny Taylor and Dupree.
Griner’s debut had downtown Phoenix buzzing with people and created an atmosphere inside US Airways Center like it was a playoff game.
Griner got off to a good start, racing past Chicago’s Sylvia Fowles for a tip-in on the game’s first possession and swatting Prince on a drive to the basket.
Delle Donne was the better player after that.
Griner didn’t take another shot in the first half after picking up her third foul with 2 1-2 minutes left in the first quarter and sat the rest of the way.
Delle Donne showed off her versatility, scoring on drives, pull-up jumpers and a couple of 3-pointers, including one at the buzzer, to score 16 points by halftime.
Phoenix also had no answer for Prince, who hit 4 of 7 from 3-point range and had 14 points by halftime.
Chicago, taking advantage of Phoenix’s shoddy defense and poor rebounding, hit 23 of 39 shots — 6 of 10 from the arc — and turning six offensive rebounds into 11 points for a 56-32 halftime lead.
“It was nice to see everybody come together and play very well,” said Prince, who was 6 of 9 from 3-point range. “The passes went very well, we had assists, we had rebounds, we just clicked on everything.”
The Mercury started to play better in the third quarter.
Griner scored on a three-point play with a turnaround to start the second half and swatted a shot in the post by Delle Donne. She scored again inside after missing an attempted skyhook — a shot she learned from Kareem Abdul-Jabbar — and DeWanna Bonner hit a 3-pointer that cut Chicago’s lead to 64-52 with 2 minutes left in the quarter.
The hole was just too big to come all the way back from.
Prince hit a couple more 3-pointers — one set up by a wicked crossover — and the Sky led 74-52 headed into the fourth quarter.
The only thing left in doubt was whether Griner could get her dunk.
She brought the crowd to its feet with her first one, taking a pass from Charde Houston for a make-it-look-easy one-hander. Griner induced a roar with her next one, scooping up a loose ball and throwing down a two-hander, hanging on the rim for effect.
Exciting as it was, the second dunk only cut Chicago’s lead to 22.
“I wish it was in a win, but whenever I can dunk, the crowd got into it,” Griner said.
Turned out, it was about all they had to cheer about.
The two teams won’t play again until Sept. 11 in Chicago.