The stands at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn were packed for Sunday afternoon’s New York Liberty game against the Phoenix Mercury. No doubt, people were eager to see Britney Griner’s first game in the city since being released from a Russian prison last December in a prisoner swap after being detained in the country for 10 months. Griner was arrested on February 17 and found to be in possession of vape cartridges that contained cannabis oil, which is illegal in Russia. The 32-year-old from Houston, Texas was subsquently sentenced to nine years imprisonment in a penal colony.
Back in comfortable surroundings, Griner shared warm hugs with Liberty coach Sandy Brondello, who previously coached the Mercury, and her Olympic teammate Breanna Stewart. Griner sat out the game due to a sore hip. Also sidelined for the Mercury was long-time Mercury star Diana Taurasi, one of the greatest players in women’s basketball history, who was nursing a sore hamstring.
“It was definitely great seeing BG; it was my first time seeing her since she’s gotten back. So, it was a little emotional seeing her, but also I’m really proud of the way she’s kind of handling everything on and off the court,” noted Stewart. “She’s an inspiration to really everybody, and I’m just happy she’s home safe and back with us in the WNBA,” said Stewart.
The Liberty prevailed over the Mercury 89–71 to improve to 7-3. When the WNBA schedule began on Tuesday night, the Liberty had the third best record in the 12-team league behind the 10-1 Las Vegas Aces and 9-3 Connecticut Sun. The Mercury were last at 2-8. Stewart continued her MVP-worthy season with 28 points, seven assists and 14 rebounds. Jonquel Jones, the 2021 WNBA MVP with the Sun, had her first double-double with New York, contributing 13 points and 11 rebounds.
All 10 active Liberty players saw minutes—Sabrina Ionescu did not play due to a hamstring issue. “I thought they’ve been doing well in practice, so they should be rewarded for that,” said Brondello of her bench. “They competed well. We’re going to need them as we move forward.” The game also marked the return to the roster of Brooklyn native Epiphanny Prince. She was re-signed by the team to a hardship contract late last week after starting the season with the Liberty then being released
Marine Johannès continues to show impressive play, contributing 10 points, three assists and three steals. “I made some mistakes, but I think I tried to not think about the last action too much and I just played confident,” said Johannès. Stewart praised Johannès’ ability to see the floor and find the open player.
The Liberty is on the road for a game tomorrow against the Atlanta Dream and then return to Barclays Center on Sunday afternoon to take on the Washington Mystics.