The Phoenix Mercury were on track to kick off the 2023 WNBA season when the team took on the Los Angeles Sparks at Crypto.com Arena in Brittney Griner’s official return to the court.
Griner had 18 points, six rebounds, four blocks and two assists in Phoenix’s 94-71 loss. But it was a big moment for the former Baylor star as she returned to the court for the first time since 2021. She missed all of last season because she was jailed in Russia on a drug conviction. She returned to the United States in December as part of a prisoner exchange for arms dealer Viktor Bout.
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Because it was his return, Mercury head coach Vanessa Nygaard expected a much more crowded arena.
«I mean, it was great. But honestly, let’s go LA now. Didn’t we sell the arena to BG?» Nygard said. «Like, I expected more, you know, to be honest. Right, it was great, it was loud. But how was it not a sale? How was it not a sale?»
Griner said it was nice to be back in a real game, but he wanted the win.
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«It was nice to be back on the court and in a real game and everything. The love from the fans that came out was incredible and from the players. I definitely felt it and felt it when I was there (Russia),» he said. said he, through the Arizona Republic. «It was good, but performance-wise, it wasn’t good enough because I couldn’t help the team with a dub.»
The stadium held some 19,068 people and some 10,396 people attended the game, according to ESPN. Sparks’ average attendance is over 5,600. The team went 13-23 last season and hasn’t been to the playoffs since the coronavirus-affected 2020 season.
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The Sparks last won the Finals in 2016.