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Brittney Griner returns to New York as Liberty host Phoenix Mercury

Seattle Storm v Phoenix Mercury Photo by Kate Frese/NBAE via Getty Images

Couldn’t quite swing it. The New York Liberty were down late against the Atlanta Dream and made one last push for victory. However, they wound up falling just short and took a home loss on Tuesday night. They’ve been off since then so they’re feeling refreshed for this contest. To catch up on the past week of Liberty action, watch me and Erica Ayala of Black Rosie Media talk about it on the Gotta Get Up podcast!

The opponent today is looking to climb out of an early hole. The Phoenix Mercury have gotten off to a slow start and find themselves in a tough spot. They fell to 2-7 after losing on the road to the Washington Mystics on Friday night.

Where to follow the game

CBS Sports on television. Tip at high noon.


Sabrina Ionescu missed Tuesday’s game with a tight hamstring. She's listed as questionable. The team announced on Saturday morning that they signed Epiphanny Prince to a hardship contract. Han Xu is at the Asia Cup and out. Per Jackie Powell of The Next, Jonquel Jones missed practice on Friday due to a non COVID illness. Her availability is unknown.

Skylar Diggins-Smith is on maternity leave and out. Diana Taurasi missed Friday’s game due to a hamstring injury. Her status for this game is questionable. Brittney Griner missed Friday’s game due to a hip injury. Her status is questionable as well.

The game

Homecoming! Today we get to see Michaela Onyenwere back in Brooklyn. Mic was a solid player in her two years here, including winning Rookie of the Year in 2021. Mic was traded in February to the Mercury as part of the big four team trade that sent Diamond DeShields to Dallas and Marina Mabrey to Chicago. In her time with the team, she was a consummate professional and someone the fans gravitated to. The fans should give Mic a hearty ovation when she’s announced.

Even when Breanna Stewart’s shot isn’t there, she still finds ways to make things happen. Stewie was cold from the field on Tuesday night due to a career worst 1-14 from the field. Even with that, she still filled up the stat sheet with 13 rebounds, six assists, four blocks, and one steal. It’s been a magnificent start to her Liberty career and look for her to bounce back in a major way.

Assuming the Mercury are without the dynamic duo, more of the scoring responsibilities will fall to Sophie Cunningham. Cunningham has taken on more of the workload in recent years and it’s been paying off for her and the team. She'll probably have the assignment of guarding Marine Johannes. MJ almost pulled off a miracle on Tuesday night, but the comeback fell just short. Even still, having a creator like Johannes goes a long way and her ability to cook up magic makes her hard to handle. Sandy Brondello mentioned that MJ doesn't like playing point guard so she doesn't put her in those situations, so having Prince back to handle those duties when Courtney Vandersloot rests.

The Liberty haven’t been great on the boards, but luckily for them, the Mercury are even worse. Phoenix is last in the WNBA in rebounding and are a bit undersized. This could be a huge game for Jonquel Jones. JJ has steadily been getting back to the form she wants to be at following her foot fracture. Early foul trouble on Tuesday got in the way of JJ's great start, and the more consecutive minutes she can stack up, the better she'll play. If JJ is out, that means more minutes for Stefanie Dolson. Dolson got some extended run on Tuesday and did well finishing at the rim. Dolson's high post passing and interior physicality is always a plus and she can step up in a pinch.

When you’re shorthanded, you’ve got to be extra careful with the ball. The Mercury have struggled holding on to the ball, and lead the WNBA in turnover rate. For a Liberty team that wants to pick the pace up a bit, forcing turnovers and making crowd pleasing plays will help the cause.

Player to watch: Brittney Griner

It’s bigger than basketball. For much of 2022, Brittney Griner was unjustly detained in a Russian prison. She was released in December 2022 to the joy and relief of people in the United States and around the world.

Griner’s release was and is a political flashpoint, and it’s unfortunately subjected her to harassment from shiftless jerks. To offset that issue, the league has given BG approval to fly charter the rest of the season. The rest of the league will be able to use a chartering service called JSX for their flights going forward. As Breanna Stewart said in her introductory press conference, “We’re hoping it’s not just a no, but can be a maybe and eventually a yes, when it comes to chartered flights.”

At The 19th, Errin Haines wrote about the Equal Pay Act and how it ties into what BG went through:

While the law doesn’t require that the WNBA and NBA be treated the same, the milestone is a reminder of the the disparities that persist between the leagues and the wider issue of full workplace equality.

The Equal Pay Act addresses not only salary, but all forms of compensation, including accommodations, reimbursement for travel expenses and other benefits. The issue of charter flights may not seem relatable to many Americans, but sports can often present an opening for a larger understanding of issues in our society.

What happened to Griner last weekend reminded me that as the country marks this milestone, equal pay is really only the beginning of a broader conversation — and that women’s safety at work is also tied to their economic opportunity.

True indeed.

On the court, BG has been absolutely incredible.

BG has shot 53 percent or better from the field in every game this season but one (the one she left due to injury). Being able to pick right up from where you left off and be one of the best players in the W is an incredible, incredible feat and one Griner should be proud of. All Star voting wraps up in a few days, and BG is one of the leaders in the fan vote. It’s not a sure bet she plays today, but seeing her is a win and it will be an emotional day for her old coach, Sandy Brondello, and all of the fans at Barclays Center.

At the game on Sunday, the Liberty are doing something pretty special. For the fans at the ‘clays, there will be a letter writing station in the main concourse in support of the Bring Our Families Home campaign

The Liberty went to the Bring Our Families Home mural it was unveiled in Washington DC last summer and Sandy Brondello spoke about the experience and learning the stories of those families. The W has always stood up for communities near and far, and this event will go a long way in continuing to promote awareness for all our folks that are being unjustly detained around the world. That’s what’s up.

One other thing: the Liberty is opening up a lot of the upper deck this afternoon expecting a big New York welcome home for Griner. The Liberty are already averaging 2,000 more paying customers than they did last year.

From the Vault

We can jam on Father’s Day!

More reading: Swish Appeal, The Strickland, The Local W, New York Daily News, Fansided, Just Women’s Sports, SI All Knicks, Winsidr, Her Hoop Stats and The Next