Brittney Griner played well in her return to the Phoenix Mercury on Saturday night but not enough for a win over the desperate Seattle Storm.

The 6-9 Griner is the WNBA scoring leader. She has been out since suffering knee and ankle injuries July 14 with the Mercury going 3-5 in her absence.

Griner scored 19 points in 21 minutes in her return, just three off her average, and pulled a team high seven rebounds but the Mercury still lost 98-89 to an opponent on a four-game losing streak that made a coaching change Thursday.

“It’s still a good that, that’s why I tried to point out in our preparation,” Mercury coach Sandy Brondello said. “I’m disappointed in the team and actually they’re disappointed in the effort they showed. We haven’t really performed the way we can. We’re on our home court, we have great fans and we don’t give the appropriate effort.

“Seattle just did what they wanted to. We weren’t the aggressor. We have to take a few days off and freshen up and we have to decide what kind of team we want to be.”

The Storm (11-16) led 78-74 at the end of the third quarter and essentially put the game away with a 10-3 run to open the fourth. Sami Whitcomb and Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis made back-to-back 3-pointers and Breanna Stewart hit a banker and reverse layup after which the Mercury could get no closer than six before 11,797 on Rock the Pink Night in support of breast cancer awareness.

“It was disappointing,” said Mercury guard Diana Taurasi, who scored 20 and became the Mercury career rebounding leader. “Brittney looked great for not playing for four weeks. That’s tough to do and come in and play as effective as she did. I think she looked great out there and obviously she makes a huge difference. That was probably the only positive we’ll take out of today’s game.”

Griner’s playing time was restricted in her first game back and she also was in foul trouble, picking up her fourth at 5:39 of the third quarter. Still she had three blocks to go with her other numbers and was the only starter with a positive plus-minus game.

“I felt fine,” Griner said. “I didn’t have an issue with the ankle or the knee. The limited minutes sucked the most. You get going, you start feeling good and no matter if you’re tired or not, you kind of forget about being fatigued. But I got going then I had to come out.”

Seattle, after losing six of its last seven, fired Jenny Boucek as coach Thursday and elevated assistant Gary Kloppenburg to interim head coach.

Kloppenburg coached his first game as a head coach since Sept. 14, 2013 with the Tulsa Shock. He was a Mercury assistant in 2003. It was the first coaching meeting between Kloppenburg and Brondello.

The Mercury fell to 14-13 and were unable to clinch a playoff tiebreaker advantage over the Storm. The teams play again Aug. 27 in Seattle.

Stewart and Jewell Loyd scored 20 points each for the Storm with Stewart pulling nine rebounds. Crystal Langhorne added 19 points and Alysha Clark 13.

The Mercury used a 9-3 run including four points from Camille Little to lead 66-59 early in the third quarter. Seattle answered with 13 of the next 15 points, seven by center Langhorne, effective after Griner went out with her fourth foul. Phoenix backup center Angel Robinson missed the second half with a right knee injury, the extent of which is not yet known.

The Mercury trailed the majority of the first half before putting together a 7-0 run for a halftime tie at 53.

Griner had eight points and four rebounds in 9:27 in the first half and also three fouls. She scored the game’s first four points and another early score on a spin layup vs. Stewart. Brondello took Griner out with 6:13 left in the first quarter and brought her back to start the second.

Stewart had 14 first-half points for the Storm and Jewell Loyd 11.

Seattle led 31-28 at the end of the first quarter and 53-46 after a Loyd baseline 3-pointer before the late Mercury rally that included Cayla George’s second trey of the first half. Taurasi led Phoenix in the first half with 12 points.

In addition to Griner, Monique Currie started for the Mercury, replacing rookie Stephanie Talbot at small forward. Currie, obtained in a trade June 28, scored 29 points (two off her career high) Thursday and came into Saturday averaging 18.2 points in the last five games. She scored 11 and is 13 shy of 4,000 for her career.

Griner to return for Mercury against Seattle

WNBA scoring leader Brittney Griner is expected to return from injury for the Phoenix Mercury on Saturday against Seattle.

The 6-9 Griner, averaging 22.3 points and 8.2 rebounds, suffered knee and ankle injuries early in the fourth quarter July 14. She’s missed eight games during which the Mercury went 3-5.

Still Phoenix is 14-12, two wins less than all of the 2016 regular season, with eight games remaining. There still is time and opportunity to improve from fifth in the eight-team playoffs. The top four teams receive a bye from the single-elimination first round.

RELATED: Mercury 2017 season schedule

“That was our goal,” Mercury coach Sandy Brondello said Friday of having a shot at the top four when Griner returned. “We knew it was going to be more difficult, but other players have had opportunities to play and improve their game. We showed we could have won all of them and with BG (Griner) it would have been much easier.”

The Mercury lost four games by 10 points or less in Griner’s absence. They were at risk of dropping another close one Thursday, failing to close out Dallas in regulation and giving up the first six points in overtime, but pulled out an important 101-100 victory.

“We looked tired out there and made some unforced errors but got it back together and made some big plays,” Brondello said. “Mo (Currie) was aggressive and got to the free-throw line and Cayla (George) hit a big 3. We haven’t been able to close games and got that monkey off our back. I’m happy for that and BG’s coming back.”

Griner probably will start against Seattle (10-16), Brondello said, but her playing time will be limited at first. After Saturday, the Mercury are off until Aug. 18 so Griner has more time to regain fitness.

RELATED: WNBA standings

“Everything looks good, she’s healed well,” Brondello said. “I have to talk to the doctor and see what kind of limitations there are. She’s done a lot of work off the court, but it’s different playing. She has a few weeks to get back in the kind of rhythm she had before. In the meantime, we have to take a one game approach.”

Seattle comes in with a new head coach. Jenny Boucek, 36-58 with the Storm since 2015, was fired Thursday and replaced at least on an interim basis by assistant Gary Kloppenburg.

“That can give them an extra boost,” Brondello said. “When teams do make a change, the next game they typically come out and play well. We have to make sure we’re on our toes. They have talented players and like us have been in close games they weren’t able to finish.”

Seattle Storm at Phoenix Mercury

When: 7 p.m. Saturday.

Where: Talking Stick Resort Arena.

Mercury: G Monique Currie’s 29 points Thursday were two off her career high while Emma Cannon had a career-best 17 off the bench at Dallas. The team’s annual Rock the Pink Night in support of breast health awareness will include the Mercury wearing pink jerseys and a fan giveaway of pink shirts courtesy of IASIS Healthcare. Jerseys will be auctioned after the game and a breast cancer ribbon made of luminarias will be lit on the plaza outside the arena at halftime. Proceeds from the auction and luminarias will be donated to the American Cancer Society. 

Storm: Seattle is on a four-game losing streak that led to a coaching change Thursday. Now interim head coach Gary Kloppenburg was Tulsa’s head coach in 2012-13 and has a lengthy WNBA career as an assistant. The Storm last won July 28 and since have lost to Minnesota, Dallas, San Antonio and most recently Connecticut, 84-71 on Tuesday when the Sun had a 33-9 edge in the fourth quarter. Still with F Breanna Stewart and guards Sue Bird and Jewell Loyd, the Storm are capable of making the playoffs. 

Mercury win overtime thriller in Dallas

Aug. 10, 2017

Monique Currie scored 29 points, Danielle Robinson made two free throws for a three-point lead with 41.1 seconds left in overtime and the Phoenix Mercury beat the Dallas Wings 101-100 on Thursday night.

Dallas scored the first six points of overtime, but Currie’s 3-pointer from the corner put Phoenix ahead 99-98 with 58.9 seconds left. After Robinson’s makes, Allisha Gray hit two free throws with 31.9 seconds left to pull Dallas to 101-100.

Phoenix had a pass stolen by Karima Christmas-Kelly with 16 seconds left, but the Mercury deflected a pass at the other end and Dallas didn’t get off a final shot before the buzzer.

Robinson and Emma Cannon each added 17 points for Phoenix (14-12).

Glory Johnson had 25 points, 15 rebounds and five assists for Dallas (13-15).

Johnson was fouled on a putback with 14.4 seconds left in regulation and she made the free throw to tie it at 90. Diana Taurasi’s contested 3-pointer at the buzzer was off the mark.

– Associated Press

Phoenix Mercury at Dallas Wings

When: 5 p.m. Thursday.

Where: College Park Center, Arlington, Texas. 


Mercury: Phoenix (13-12) completes a three-game road trip coming off narrow losses at Connecticut (93-92) and Washington (85-80). C Brittney Griner remains out for an eighth game since suffering knee/ankle injuries July 14. Griner’s return still is uncertain. If she doesn’t play at home Saturday against Seattle, she might be back for an Aug. 18 game at Washington. Phoenix split two home games against Dallas in May, losing 68-58 in the season opener and winning 107-65. In the second meeting, the Mercury had a 61-29 edge in the second half after leading by 10 at halftime. 

Wings: Fighting for a playoff berth, Dallas (13-14) has won its last two games including an 85-79 upset of WNBA defending champion Los Angeles on Sunday. F Glory Johnson had 23 points/13 rebounds in the win over the Sparks with three others scoring in double figures. C Courtney Paris is back from injury and now has played in 13 games overall. G Skylar Diggins-Smith is averaging a team high 18.4 points.