Griner dunks, dominates as Team Stewie wins WNBA All-Star Game

ByM.A. Voepel ESPN logo
Monday, July 17, 2023

LAS VEGAS -- Before a sold-out crowd at Michelob Ultra Arena that included Dwyane Wade, Anthony Davis, Sue Bird and Sheryl Swoopes, Saturday's WNBA All-Star Game in prime time was a hit.

Team Stewart beat Team Wilson 143-127 in the home of the defending WNBA champion Las Vegas Aces. Brittney Griner, who was an honorary All-Star last season while being detained in Russia, dunked twice and took a symbolic handoff from the Aces' A'ja Wilson as Griner's Phoenix Mercury will host the 2024 All-Star Game.

Team Stewart's Jewell Loyd, honoring her parents' 40th wedding anniversary, had an All-Star-record 31 points and earned MVP honors. Team Wilson's Kelsey Plum had 30 points and applauded the much larger MVP trophy the league gave out this year than last, when Plum was MVP.

Here are the top takeaways of All-Star weekend, as the league took a fun pause from heated competition that will resume Tuesday.

Welcome back, BG

Griner was all smiles all weekend, and she reminded everyone how dominant she can be even in an exhibition, finishing with 18 points, 13 rebounds and 2 blocked shots.

"The biggest thing is watch your head so you don't get dunked on," Wilson said of facing Griner. "That was the defensive assignment. Anytime you see BG in the paint, I think you should just move out of the way."

Griner said she was honored that team captain Breanna Stewart of the New York Liberty had chosen her first, and wanted to be sure she contributed to the victory. But overall, the chance to interact with the other players, all of whom wore her No. 42 in the second half of last year's All-Star Game in Chicago, meant the most to her.

"What you see on the court is fun, but in the locker room before the game, that's where all the little moments that you take away always happen," Griner said.

Plum's seal of approval

The WNBA inadvertently clowned itself last season with the tiny trophy presented to Plum as All-Star Game MVP -- which she referred to as "my little teacup." But that was definitely fixed this season.

Loyd's trophy was much bigger and heavier, and got a seal of approval from Plum.

"They upgraded," Plum said. "Whoever was in charge [of the trophy] either got fired or was very scared of getting fired. But listen, the whole incident with the trophy caused a stir, so I didn't mind it.

"It's cool. I'm super happy for Jewell, and I thought they did a great job this year."

Plum also said she was playing for charity, so that meant even more to her than a trophy. Under Armour offered her $1,000 for every basket made, while Google pledged $1,000 for every assist. So Plum ended up with $16,000 total to give to Child Haven in Las Vegas.

Guards rule

With Loyd winning MVP, the drought for true post players winning the honor extends another year. Candace Parker, then with the Los Angeles Sparks, was the last true post player to be All-Star MVP, in 2013. Since then, the award has gone to a guard or a wing player.

The captains are both forwards. Both had good games -- Wilson finished with 20 points and five rebounds, Stewart had a game-high nine assists -- but they were asked what needs to happen for a post player to take home the MVP trophy again.

"We just need to shoot more 3s ... 3s and 4-pointers," Stewart said, referring to the special spots on the floor for which four points were awarded. "Or if someone gets a triple-double."

"We've got to do better," Wilson said.

Coaches go way back

The Connecticut Sun's Stephanie White coached Team Stewart and the Aces' Becky Hammon coached Team Wilson. The two were born just three months apart in 1977, finished their college careers in 1999, and then played in the WNBA.

White was a second-round draft pick in 1999 from the Purdue Boilermakers, while Hammon, who played for the Colorado State Rams, went undrafted. But injuries limited White, who played just five WNBA seasons before moving into coaching on the college level. Hammon became an All-Star who played 16 WNBA seasons, then began her coaching career in the NBA.

"We've known each other since the mid-'90s," said White, who won a national championship with Purdue in 1999. "We often talk about not just our journey as players, but where this league has come from and where this league has gone.

"To be back in this moment together is pretty cool. Each of us took different paths to get here. I don't think when we played against each other in the NCAA tournament in [1998] we would have ever thought it would have led to us coaching our teams in an All-Star Game. I love this league, and I know that Becky feels the same way."

Phoenix has next

It's a high bar for the next All-Star Game, considering this year's expanded WNBA Live fan fest, the exciting 3-point contest where New York's Sabrina Ionescu torched the nets, and the sell-out crowd for Saturday's game.

What could Phoenix have in store next season?

"I know that Phoenix and the Mercury organization, they're going to put on one hell of an All-Star," Griner said. "I know the city is going to come out, so it's going to be a good time."

One suggestion from some of the All-Stars: move the 3-point contest and skill challenges to prime time, as the game was this year.

It also could be the final season for the Mercury's Diana Taurasi, who is signed through 2024. She has been an All-Star 10 times.

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