Storm can’t handle Griner, Taurasi

PHOENIX — The maturation of Phoenix Mercury center Brittney Griner continues with the second-year post progressing on the offensive end to go along with her shot-blocking.

On Tuesday night, the Seattle Storm saw it first hand with Griner getting 19 points, eight rebounds and four assists in falling to 2-6 on the young season after an 87-72 loss to Phoenix.

“I noticed it and when I go back and watch film, I’m getting deeper position, I got more poise,” Griner said after her fifth straight in double figures. “I’m not getting the ball and like, ‘Okay, what do I need to do with it next?’ I’m getting it and I’m like, ‘Alright, they’re not coming, I’m going. If they’re coming, then I’m picking them apart. Where’s the open man at.”

Diana Taurasi had 20 points and seven assists to lead the Mercury (4-1) to their second win over their Western Conference rival less than three weeks into the season. Taurasi said she has seen the progress in the 6-foot-8 Griner.

“I don’t know if it’s polished or it’s more confidence, more intent during the game,” Taurasi said. “I think everything has slowed down for her a little bit. As a rookie, you don’t know what to expect.”

First-year Mercury coach Sandy Brondello knows Griner is working hard to improve.

“BG is a big target down low and she’s got a little more poise about her, she’s finishing well. I think that is all the work she has been doing,” Brondello said. “Then she is making good decisions if they trap, so she’s finding that open man by making that extra pass.”

The Mercury led by 15 in the second half and ran off five straight points early in the fourth to keep the advantage in double figures for the final eight minutes.

Phoenix, the best shooting team in the league, made 33-of-62, including 28-of-42 from inside the 3-point line.

Crystal Langhorne scored 27 points for Seattle, which have lost three of the last four.

Phoenix held Sue Bird to 1-of-10 shooting and two assists in 33 minutes. She had five points. She has made only 6-of-33 from the field over her last three games.

“She’s not shot it well this year but she will,” Seattle coach Brian Agler said. “You have to remember people put a lot of focus on her. They try and stay in her space and make it difficult for her.”

Candice Dupree added 19 points and eight rebounds for the Mercury, who beat Seattle 81-64 in Phoenix’s season opener. The Storm swept the Mercury last season.

“The tough thing about Phoenix is you can’t give your post player that’s on Griner a lot of help because they have so many shooters around,” Agler said. “That puts a lot of pressure on that one-on-one situation.”

Shekinna Stricklen added 13 points and four rebounds off the bench for the Storm. Camille Little scored 14 points for Seattle.

“We came out better in the first quarter but had some defensive lapses and you can’t let a team that is so talented offensively get going,” Langhorne said.

Phoenix is off to its best five-game start since the Mercury did the same thing en route to titles in 2007 and 2009. They won back-to-back games against Seattle for the first time since the 2009 season.

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