Rookies Shine During WNBA’s Opening Weekend
Brittney Griner and Elena Delle Donne put on a quite a show to cap off an impressive opening weekend for the WNBA.
The top two picks in the draft showcased their unique skills Monday night — even if the game between their teams was surprisingly one-sided.
Delle Donne scored 16 of her 22 points in the first half as the Chicago Sky built a 24-point lead over Griner and the Phoenix Mercury before cruising to an easy victory.
Unlike when she faced constant double and triple teams in college, the 6-foot-5 Delle Donne saw single coverage. She hit from all over the court, finishing with the sixth-highest total in a WNBA debut. While Griner had a little tougher time because of foul trouble, she became the first player in the league’s 17-year history to dunk twice in a game.
The two young stars were only part of a strong opening weekend for the league. The defending champion Indiana Fever came away with an easy rout Friday to kick off the season, while Bill Laimbeer and Anne Donovan returned to the sidelines for the first time in a few years Saturday.
“For months, our fans, partners and teams have been saying they couldn’t wait for the season to tip off,” WNBA president Laurel Richie told the Associated Press. “So, to have an opening weekend like this with great play on the court, great crowds and to have it all capped off by a pair of highly entertaining games on ESPN2, was a terrific way to launch the season.”
Griner’s debut had downtown Phoenix buzzing with people and created an atmosphere inside US Airways Center that felt like a playoff game. It also brought out stars like Arizona Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald, and NBA players Grant Hill and Jason Richardson.
The Mercury’s fans didn’t go away totally unhappy after Griner dunked twice in the second half. Her dunks — a one-handed slam and a vicious two-handed one — were the fourth and fifth ever in the league’s regular season.
“I wish it was in a win, but whenever I can dunk, the crowd got into it,” said Griner, who finished with 17 points, eight rebounds, four blocked shots and the two highlight-reel dunks.
Griner did most of her work in the second half because she was saddled with three fouls in the first quarter.
Sadly, Delle Donne and Griner won’t face each other again until Sept. 11.
Like Griner, Skylar Diggins — the third pick in the draft — is also looking for her first pro victory. Diggins and her Tulsa Shock played twice during the opening weekend. They lost both their games, falling at Atlanta on Saturday before dropping their home opener in overtime to Washington on Monday.
Diggins averaged 12 points and seven assists in the two losses.
The good news for the Shock, who won just nine games last season, was that Liz Cambage looked dominant in her return to the league. The Australian star, who didn’t play in the WNBA last season because of the Olympics, is still working her way back from a broken wrist she suffered playing overseas. Still, she had 21 points and 10 rebounds in Monday’s loss.
“I was a bit rusty. I have a lot of room to improve,” Cambage said. “It’s been three months since I have played. I only started shooting last week when I got cleared (from the broken wrist).”
The WNBA also welcomed back Laimbeer, who hadn’t coached in the league since 2009. His New York Liberty dropped their opener to Donovan and the Connecticut Sun on Saturday night. Donovan spent the last three seasons coaching at Seton Hall before returning to the WNBA this season.
Laimbeer wasn’t too concerned, figuring it would take a few games or so for his new group to come together.
Indiana picked up right where it left off with a rout of San Antonio in its opener. Tamika Catchings scored 19 points and the Fever coasted to the victory over an injury-depleted Silver Stars team. Becky Hammon is expected to miss a month after breaking her right middle finger. She sat on the bench with a cast covering her hand and extending down to her wrist.
Los Angeles routed Seattle in its opener, beating the Storm 102-69. The Sparks shot 62 percent from the field — including shooting 75 percent from behind the 3-point line in the blowout.
“We’re a very unselfish team,” said Sparks guard Kristi Toliver. “I think that’s the main thing, we have threats at all five positions. You can’t just focus on one or two people when everybody is a threat to score the basketball.”
Seattle was missing stars Sue Bird (knee) and Lauren Jackson (hamstring), who will both be sidelined for the entire season. Bird did make a TV appearance as an in-studio analyst on Monday for ESPN.
In all, 11 of the 12 teams played over the past three days. Only Minnesota, which lost in the finals to Indiana last year, didn’t get its season started yet. The Lynx open Saturday against Connecticut.
The league can only hope that the second weekend continues the success of the first.
Follow Doug on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/dougfeinberg
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.