When Diana Taurasi started a series of “One More Year!” chants for Sue Bird after Phoenix Mercury defeated Seattle Storm in the second round of the WNBA playoffs, many wondered if Taurasi could quit after the season as well.
She had already said that the Tokyo 2020 Olympics would be her last, becoming a five-time Olympic champion alongside Bird, and as injuries continued to plague the veteran over the past few seasons, the future was never clear.
However, one thing crystallized for Taurasi and company: They weren’t going to leave this year without a fight, and they were going to do whatever it took to get to the WNBA Finals.
If that meant taking second-seeded Las Vegas Aces to Game 5 and taking that game into the final seconds, tied and hoping free throws could get the job done, that’s exactly what they would do.
Phoenix outscored the Aces 87-84 in the final game of the series, sending the Mercury a shot at their fourth franchise title. Here are three takeaways from their semi-final series.
.@DianaTaurasi Elimination Games
Taurasi arrived LIVE down the stretch, scoring 14 of his 24 points in Q4
DT’s all-time record in #WNBA Winner takes it all NOW is 16-2 #Count it pic.twitter.com/5ziytIPryB
– WNBA (@WNBA) October 9, 2021
Griner’s MVP vote was valid
When Jonquel Jones won the 2021 WNBA MVP award, the decision was not unanimous. A single voter had believed that Brittney Griner should have been the first-place winner of the award.
The way the center played during the playoffs, that voter could have been onto something.
Griner had five straight games of at least 13 points and seven rebounds in the series against Las Vegas, including a 28-point performance in Game 5 in which the winner takes it all.
Griner, one of the best rim protectors in the league, has been crucial for Phoenix defensively at the glass, but he can also use his length to see the court and aid in Mercury’s quick ball movement to carry the ball. other shooters. .
Her versatility is what made her a standout player in the series, whether it’s passing, shooting, or defending, no team has been able to find a way to stop Griner, making her a continual threat as Phoenix moves on to the next round.
Phoenix Mercury’s center Brittney Griner attacks Las Vegas Aces forward A’ja Wilson (22) during the first half of Game 4 of a WNBA basketball playoff series, Wednesday, Oct. 6, 2021 , in Phoenix. (Rick Scuteri / AP)
The guards have game
Phoenix’s frontcourt impressed. With such a talented center as Griner and forwards like Brianna Turner, who was named to the WNBA defensive team this year, his impact was almost inevitable. But it was a guard, Shey Peddy, who put the Mercury ahead 86-84 and sealed their way to the final with his free throws at the end of Game 5.
This was key for Phoenix, finding ways to use both Griner’s size and to switch to relying on a small ball, an adjustment made possible by Taurasi and Skylar Diggins-Smith, who have proven invaluable.
Even at 39, Taurasi had multiple 20-plus-point games in the series, including a 37-point performance in Phoenix’s 117-91 win in Game 2, going 8-11 from the three-point line. points.
Diggins-Smith, a small but quick defender, was also consistent from the court, finding her rhythm in Game 4 and Game 5 with consecutive 14-point performances.
Bria Hartley and Sophie Cunningham have also been vital for Phoenix off the bench, being able to produce crucial minutes on offense.
Las Vegas will return
Obviously, the Aces didn’t walk away from this postseason with the outcome they wanted: After being swept away in the final last year, the return of Kelsey Plum and Liz Cambage, as well as a healthy Dearica Hamby and the acquisition of Chelsea Gray, looked like improvements in a ya. good team led by 2020 MVP A’ja Wilson.
Losing veteran Angel McCoughtry didn’t help their cause, but having one of the strongest rotations in the league that includes Jackie Young and Riquna Williams meant the Aces were a finalist pick from the start of the season.
Even when Phoenix was able to shut down Wilson, the rest of the team stepped up. Gray and Plum combined for more than 40 points in each of the last two games of the Aces series, and Plum, the Sixth Woman of the Year, scored less than 20 points just once in the semifinals.
Inconsistency plagued the Aces, as their losses seemed to have come when the load was not evenly shared, and three players scoring 20 or more points found the rest of the team unable to find the hoop.
With their starting lineup and bench in good shape and finding the cohesion necessary to find the win column, the Aces are sure to be in the title conversation for the foreseeable future.
Until next time
Phoenix and Chicago will meet for a rematch of the 2014 WNBA Finals, where Phoenix swept Chicago 3-0 for their third franchise title. Back then, a punch and a shot from Taurasi on Courtney Vandersloot sealed the victory.
Taurasi and Vandersloot still play for each respective team, and Chicago will be looking to clinch its first franchise title in a revenge series against Phoenix.