LAS VEGAS (AP) — Brittney Griner made an emphatic and emotional return to the WNBA’s mid-season showcase event.
She scored her team’s first six points, put down two dunks and finished with 18 points in the league’s All-Star Game on Saturday night.
The sellout crowd roared when Griner was introduced, and clearly moved by the ovation, she tapped her heart with her right hand. There was no doubt, a year after forcefully being absent from this event, that Griner was the star of the show.
“I didn’t think I’d be here today,” Griner said. “Everyone sending the letters and the love, meant a lot to me.”
Griner led Team Stewart, captained by the New York Liberty’s Breanna Stewart, to a 143-127 over Team Wilson, led by the Aces’ A’ja Wilson.
Team Stewart’s Jewell Loyd of the Seattle Storm broke the All-Star Game scoring record with 31 points, setting the mark on a pass from Griner. Maya Moore and Kelsey Plum each had the previous record with 30 points. Loyd earned MVP honors for the game.
Plum actually tied her own record with 30 points, one of four Aces competing for Team Wilson, who received loud ovations from the home crowd in pregame introductions.
Griner at this time last year was being held in Russia on drug charges, sparking international outrage that she was being wrongfully held. The WNBA named her an honorary starter, with every player wearing her No. 42 jersey in the second half of last year’s game.
This time Griner was actually in the starting lineup — the only one with that jersey number — overshadowing almost everything that happened on the court.
Team Stewart made Griner the focal point from the beginning. She delivered a dunk with 3:50 remaining in the first quarter off an outlet pass from Stewart. Griner also had a dunk just 25 seconds into the second half.
“I called my knees and talked to them and gave them a little pep talk,” the 32-year-old Griner said of her dunks.
Griner at one point in the first quarter challenged Team Wilson point guard Chelsea Gray of the Aces, but Gray drove past the nine-time All-Star from the Phoenix Mercury and dropped in a reverse layup from high off the glass.
At the first media timeout, Griner was shown on the video board as she sat on the bench with the words, “WELCOME BACK BRITTNEY GRINER” on the screen below her face.
Griner was among the players who wore microphones during the game, joking after missing a 3-pointer that she “got something in my eye.”
The game was played with a 20-second shot clock rather than the usual 24, two four-point spots on each side of the court were added and there were no free throws. The teams combined to hit 12 four-point shots.
New York’s Sabrina Ionescu, representing Team Stewart, made all three of her attempts from four-range in the first half, carrying over her extraordinary shooting from the previous day. Ionescu set a WNBA and NBA record with 37 of a possible 40 points in the 3-point contest. She finished with 18 points.
Sue Bird, Seimone Augustus and Sylvia Fowles were among the ex-WNBA players in attendance, with Fowles wearing Napheesa Collier’s Minnesota Lynx jersey.
Kevin Durant, Anthony Davis and Dwyane Wade were among those with NBA ties watching. Wade is buying an ownership stake in the Chicago Sky.
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