WNBA Playoffs: 'Queen of Dunking' Brittney Griner and Phoenix Mercury set for clash with Las Vegas Aces

Fresh off of eliminating the defending champion Seattle Storm in round two of the playoffs, Griner and the Mercury must now contend with 2020 runners-up Las Vegas for a place in the WNBA Finals.

By Will Imbo
Picture by 2014 Getty Images

Brittney Griner is the undisputed Queen of Dunking in the WNBA, but the basketball star is much more than a simple highlight machine; she's also a proven winner.

The 2014 WNBA champion and double Olympic gold medallist is hoping to lead the Phoenix Mercury to a fourth title but first they must beat 2020 runners-up Las Vegas Aces for a place in the finals. The Chicago Sky and Connecticut Sun meet in the other semi.

Griner played a vital role in helping the Phoenix Mercury stun the defending champion Seattle Storm 85-80 in overtime in round two of the playoffs. The result means that for the first time in six years, there will be a new champion in the top women's basketball league in the world.

The Mercury were paced by strong efforts from their star trio of five-time Olympic gold medallist Diana Taurasi (who scored 14 points and five assists in what could have been her final matchup with fellow legend Sue Bird), Brianna Turner (12 points, 12 rebounds), and Griner (23 points, 16 rebounds (playoff career-high), two blocks).

Griner's dominant performance in particular was further proof that if the Mercury are to go on and win another title (and first since 2014), they will need their dunking Queen to continue playing at an MVP-calibre level.

Brittney Griner: The origins of the Queen of Dunking

The dunk is one of the most electrifying plays in basketball. A dunk can - and has - changed the entire course of a game.

And while dunking has been a staple of the men's game for decades, it was more of a rarity in women's basketball.

Then Brittney Griner stepped onto the court.

At 2.05m (6'9), Griner is one of the tallest players in women's basketball history, though her exceptional athleticism has also been instrumental in allowing her to dominate above the rim.

In fact, the 30-year-old has been comfortable dunking the ball since childhood, when she starred for Nimitz High School in her hometown of Houston, Texas.

Brittney Griner
Picture by 2012 Getty Images

During her senior year alone, Griner dunked 52 times in 32 games, setting a single-game record of seven dunks in one contest. She also set records for the most blocks by a female player in a high school game in the U.S. (25) and most blocks in a season (318). The Mayor of Houston, Bill White, even declared May 7, 2009, Brittney Griner Day!

Needless to say, the hype surrounding Griner only grew as she advanced through her collegiate career, where she attended Baylor University in Texas, and proceeded to set national collegiate records for most blocked shots in a season (223) and most blocked shots in an NCAA tournament game (14). In her junior year, she blocked more shots than any other Division I women's team for the entire season!

Griner also made headlines in 2010 when she became only the seventh player to dunk during a women's college basketball game, and only the second woman to dunk twice in a single college game.

Evolution to WNBA star and Olympic gold medallist

Griner was selected first overall by the Phoenix Mercury in the 2013 WNBA Draft, and proceeded to set the league alight in her debut as she threw down two jams to become the third WNBA player to dunk, the first to do so twice in one game, and instantly equal Candace Parker's career dunk total.

Since her rookie campaign, Griner's career has continued to reach new heights.

She helped the Mercury win its third title in 2014, and has led the league in scoring in two different seasons while also receiving seven All-Star nominations, three First Team nods and winning the Defensive Player of the Year award twice.

She would also be a key part of the dominant U.S. women's national team in international play, winning gold medals at the Rio 2016 and Tokyo 2020 Olympics and at the 2014 and 2018 World Cups.

Heading into the 2021 playoffs, Griner had added five dunks from the season to add her total tally of 23 slams in the WNBA.

17 have come in the regular season, five in All-Star Games and one in the playoffs, while the rest of the entire WNBA has combined for just three regular-season dunks in the entire 25-year history of the league.

"It's pretty amazing," Griner told ESPN. "I mean, I own, basically, all the dunks in the W."

It's hard to dunk in the WNBA," she added. "I feel like it's easier in the NBA. I mean, I'm no fool, the mechanics of our bodies are different. They are way bigger and can jump higher. Not saying that women can't jump higher or anything like that ...

"And in the WNBA, no one wants to get dunked on. So, like, they're not just going to give it to you, so you really have to commit to doing it in the game."

Semi-final match-up vs Las Vegas Aces

But dunking might be the furthest thing from Griner's mind as she and the Mercury prepare to face the second-seed Las Vegas Aces in the semi-finals of the playoffs.

Griner will likely have her hands full with four-time WNBA All-Star and Olympic bronze medallist Elizabeth Cambage, who, at 2.03m (6'8), has the size and strength to go toe-to-toe with the Mercury star.

The Aces, who were swept by the Storm in the 2020 WNBA Finals, received an automatic bye to the semi-finals after posting a 24-8 record in the regular season to earn the No.2 seed.

Yet while they may be well-rested, the Mercury have a ton of momentum behind them following their upset of the Storm in the second round, and with the Queen of Dunking in fine form, who's to say they won't spring another surprise in the semi-finals?

Game 1 of the best-of-five series is scheduled for 28 September, with Phoenix travelling to Las Vegas for the contest.