SEATTLE — There are many tricks a veteran knows to use against rookies, even if that newcomer is 6 feet 8 and can block shots or dunk with ease like Phoenix center Brittney Griner.
And the Storm appeared to use all of them in securing a 75-72 win before a sold-out crowd of 9,686 at KeyArena on Sunday.
Mercury star Diana Taurasi made a short jumper to pull her team within one point, at 68-67, with 2:31 remaining in the game.
But Storm point guard Temeka Johnson kept her team composed, helping it find open shots. Forward Camille Little nailed a three-pointer with 57.6 remaining off a feed from Johnson to make the score 73-67 and give the Storm a cushion that the Mercury couldn’t overcome.
“It’s going to take Brittney a little time to just get into the speed of the game and the physicality,” said Storm forward Tina Thompson, who joined Little and reserve Nakia Sanford in keeping Griner off-kilter. “You’re playing against women who’ve had weight training and trainers. It’s a lot more physical.”
Storm guard Tanisha Wright saw an opening in the third quarter to lure Griner into a veteran trap. With the Storm down two points, Wright committed a hard foul against Phoenix. Griner retaliated against Wright, slicing her forearms into Wright’s chest on a screen.
A flagrant 1 foul was called against Griner and Wright made both free throws, sparking a 10-0 run that resulted in a 50-42 Storm lead.
In the fourth quarter, Griner was called for a technical foul for slamming the ball on the baseline scorer’s table, again giving Wright a free shot from the line.
“That’s the nice thing about being a veteran,” Wright said. “Veterans know this stuff. Veterans know what to expect. They know the referees will be looking at the next play. It’s part of the game. She was trying to send a message and I would expect that from any competitor who has a little bit of edge.”
On Sunday, no one had more edge than the Storm (1-1). It has five new faces, but the players are used to grinding out games.
That’s what made the Los Angeles loss difficult for the team. Storm coach Brian Agler understood the whispers that the 33-point loss showed Seattle wasn’t going to be good without All-Stars Lauren Jackson and Sue Bird, both out this season with injuries.
“Most of the people that follow the league strongly probably looked at our (Los Angeles) game and said, ‘We told you so, you’re not going to be any good,’ “ he said. “Tina (Thompson) said it correctly at the end, we sort of have to be a blue-collar team,’ “ Agler said. “To do that, you have to do a lot of the dirty work.”
Seattle began that work in practice, where it didn’t even focus on offense until Friday. On that front, Seattle was just fine, hitting 8 of 19 from three-point range to keep Griner ineffective defensively inside the paint. Wright led Seattle offensively with 20 points.
The Storm allowed the Sparks to score 28 points in the first quarter last week. On Sunday, it held the Mercury (0-2) to 38 points in the first half. Taurasi and Griner went a combined 4 of 14 from the field in the second half.
Phoenix All-Star Candice Dupree led her team with 18 points while Griner had 17 points and seven rebounds.
“That’s the mental toughness we’re going to need the rest of the season,” Wright said.