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Mercury rout Shock behind Brittney Griner's block party

PHOENIX -- Brittney Griner literally rolled into the pregame news conference to announce that she had been named the WNBA's Defensive Player of the Year for the second year in a row.

She arrived at the platform on a hoverboard, one of those two-wheeled contraptions that looks like a Segway without the handles.

The first time Phoenix Mercury general manager Jim Pitman saw his star center riding around on her new toy, he admitted it made him "very nervous."

"But I've seen other people ride it and she is, by far, the best at it," Pitman said. "So I feel a little better about that."

Even in the face of the most publicly tumultuous year of her basketball career, it's really difficult not to feel good about Griner in any context.

She is the most dominant paint presence in the women's game, on her way to being regarded as the best ever. She is relaxed and confident in her game. She is championship-tested after last year's run to the WNBA title for the Mercury. And she is hungry for another.

"I just want to get better and I want to win," Griner said before the game.

And then she went out on to the floor at Talking Stick Arena on Thursday in the opening game of the WNBA playoffs and she proved it.

Her play inside set a tone for a night that was far less dramatic than most assumed it would be, Phoenix winning in a blowout, 88-55 over the Tulsa Shock.

Phoenix takes a 1-0 lead in the best-of-three series, which will continue Saturday in Tulsa. Phoenix is 10-1 all time in a playoff series after taking a 1-0 lead.

In 24 minutes on the floor, Griner collected 18 points, eight rebounds and 11 blocked shots, breaking the single-game WNBA playoff record for blocks and matching her own regular-season single-game record, which she earned last season against Tulsa on June 29.

"To come out and dominate like she did tonight, that's amazing," Phoenix coach Sandy Brondello said. "That's how important she is to this team. ... When you have a player like that who takes pride on the defensive end, it makes everyone else around them better. She's just becoming a better player."

By halftime, Griner had 13 points and seven blocks, and Phoenix had a 52-22 lead.

"We definitely wanted to come out with a spark," Griner said. "Whenever I had the ball, I just wanted to be aggressive and go toward the basket and try to get their posts in foul trouble and block shots. I wanted to set a tone tonight."

The Shock simply cannot hope to get out of this series -- their first playoff appearance since the franchise moved to Tulsa in 2010 -- without containing Griner to some degree.

Asked what can be done to slow Griner, Shock coach Fred Williams smirked.

"She's a very hard guard for any team in this league and we know that," Williams said. "She was in a rhythm tonight. We brought doubles. She just really wanted to be a force at catching the basketball and getting to the rim. We need to get her away from the rim."

If Griner can write herself another happy ending to this season, it will be an impressive comeback considering its rocky start. In the spring, a domestic violence arrest earned her and then-fiancée Glory Johnson each a seven-game suspension by the league. Griner was sent to a court-ordered counseling program. The drama continued with the subsequent marriage to Johnson and, 28 days later, the announcement of a pregnancy and a divorce.

Griner has found herself making regular appearances in the tabloids, and having newspapers and television stations covering her contentious divorce proceedings.

But Pitman said he was always concerned more for Griner than about her.

"I know what kind of person she is and she's a really good person at the core," Pitman said. "I was concerned about making sure she was always in the right frame of mind. We had conversations and she's just been terrific through this whole process. She took responsibility for her actions, she did what she was supposed to do from a personal standpoint."

"She was in a rhythm tonight. We brought doubles. She just really wanted to be a force at catching the basketball and getting to the rim." Tulsa coach Fred Williams

She has done what she was supposed to do on the court as well.

Griner joined a team that was still trying to find its footing without Diana Taurasi and Penny Taylor on the floor, and immediately, the Mercury began to stabilize.

Griner stabilized as well.

Now that Phoenix is back in the playoffs, Griner looks better than she ever has as a professional basketball player, even if her personal life is not completely settled.

"What I've learned is, keep it on the court," she said.

Griner said last year's championship run taught her that nothing comes easy, a lesson she carried to the floor Thursday when she brought her best from the outset.

"I know what it takes to go all the way," Griner said. "I know what intensity level I need to come out with. You have to give it your best shot."

Griner left the postgame news conference once again rolling out of the room on her hoverboard. She smiled and patted Pitman on the back as she rolled out.

"Don't worry," she told her boss.

Don't worry, indeed.