LAS VEGAS. Brittney Griner made a strong and emotional return to the WNBA mid-season showcase event.
She scored 18 points, including her team’s first six points, and hit two dunks in the league’s All-Star Game on Saturday night.
The sold-out crowd roared as Griner was introduced, and, visibly moved by the applause, she tapped her right hand on her heart. A year after the forced absence from the event, there was no doubt that Griner was the star of the show.
“These applause and all these little memories that I can cherish now mean the whole world,” Griner said. “Therefore, there was no doubt that I was going to come and play. They never wavered in their support.”
Griner led Team Stewart, led by New York Liberty’s Breanna Stewart, to a 143–127 victory over Team Wilson, led by Aya Wilson of the Aces. 143 points and 270 points in total are All-Star Game records.
Jewell Loyd of Team Stewart of the Seattle Storm broke the All-Star Game scoring record with 31 points, setting the record for Griner assists. Maya Moore and Kelsey Plum set the previous record with 30 points. Loyd received the MVP award for the game.
“I played a lot because of my parents, I didn’t give them an anniversary present,” Loyd said. “So I think it was acceptable. I hope so”.
Plum effectively matched her own record with 30 points, becoming one of four aces competing for Wilson’s team to receive a huge standing ovation from the home crowd during pre-match performances. Plum, who also had five passes, said the sponsors promised that for each basket and pass, $1,000 would be donated to a charity in Las Vegas.
“So I shot,” Plum said. “I mean, 17 shots in 21 minutes is insane.”
She raised $16,000.
At the same time last year, Griner was in Russian custody on charges of drug possession, prompting international outrage that she had been wrongfully detained. The WNBA named her an honorary starter and every player wore her jersey #42 during the second half of last year’s game.
This time, Griner was actually in the starting lineup – the only one with that jersey number – eclipsing almost everything that happened on the court.
Stewart’s team made Griner the center of attention from the start. She dunked with 3:50 left in the first quarter after a pass from Stewart. Griner also dunked just 25 seconds into the second half.
“I called my knees and talked to them and cheered them up a bit,” Griner, 32, said of her dunks.
She later demonstrated the same jumping ability by jumping onto the risers for the post-match press conference.
At one point in the first quarter, Griner challenged Wilson’s point guard Chelsea Gray of the Aces, but Gray drove past the nine-time All-Star with the Phoenix Mercury and fell backwards off the glass. It was one of the few plays that Griner failed to do.
During the first media timeout, Greener was shown on a video board sitting on a bench with the words “WELCOME BRITNEY GREENER” on the screen below her face.
Griner was among the players who wore microphones during the game, joking after missing a three-pointer that she “got something in my eye.”
The game was played with a 20-second shot clock instead of the usual 24, two four-point spots were added on each side of the court, and there were no free throws. In total, the teams made 12 four-point shots.
Sabrina Ionescu of New York, representing Team Stewart, hit all three attempts from four targets in the first half, maintaining her outstanding shooting from the previous day. Ionescu set a WNBA and NBA record by scoring 37 out of 40 possible points in a 3-point contest. She finished with 18 points.
Sue Bird, Seimon Augustus, and Sylvia Fowles were among the former WNBA players in attendance, with Fowles wearing a Napheesa Collier Minnesota Lynx jersey.
Kevin Durant, Anthony Davis and Dwyane Wade were among those watching NBA ties. Wade buys a stake in Chicago Sky.