Diana Taurasi has the Phoenix Mercury back in the WNBA Finals for the first time since 2014.
Next up is a known foe – Candace Parker and the Chicago Sky.
These two teams met for the championship seven years ago—the last appearance of both teams on the game’s biggest stage. Taurasi and the Mercury swept the three-game series. They kick off the best-of-five series in Phoenix on Sunday.
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Taurasi scored 14 of her 24 points in the fourth quarter to help the Mercury beat second-seeded Las Vegas 87-84 on Friday night in Game 5 of their semifinal series. Chicago knocked out top-seeded Connecticut in four games in the other semifinal.
It is the first time since the WNBA changed the playoff format in 2016 that neither of the top two teams made it to the final. Phoenix was the fifth seed and Chicago the six.
“It’s hard,” Taurasi said. “It’s now, what, seven, eight seasons? And when you get there, you think you’ll always get there. And it’s not. I know the magnitude of this, and these guys have been amazing all along. This “The team has just been resilient all year. We’ve had injuries, this and that, and we’ve always been able to just stick together and like each other. That’s a big deal.”
Chicago also faced some setbacks this season, coming off a 2-7 start while Parker was recovering from an ankle injury. Parker decided to come home to Chicago after spending the first 13 years of her career in Los Angeles.
Now she has the Sky three wins away from winning their first championship.
“It’s kind of a full circle moment,” Parker said. “To look up in the stands and see people I started playing basketball for. It’s super special. This is a special group. The way you deal with adversity has shaped and revealed our character. We all went to the play-offs and thought we’d be here.”
Chicago advanced to the final by beating Dallas in the opening round before beating Minnesota. The Sky has one of the best offensives in the league led by point guard Courtney Vandersloot, who had the second-ever triple-double in playoff history in Game 1 of the team’s series against Connecticut.
“Chicago plays a really good ball, they peak at the right time,” said Phoenix coach Sandy Brondello. “They are playing their best ball at the right time of the season. It’s a big challenge for us, they will be more rested, but hopefully we can make a good run and have some success and win the championship.”
Here are other tidbits from the WNBA Finals:
Phoenix won Game 5 without starting guard Kia Nurse, who tore an ACL in the opening minute of game four of the playoffs. The Mercury also missed Sophie Cunningham with a strained calf. Brondello said she hopes Cunningham will be back for some of the finals.
“We are facing a lot of setbacks at the moment, but it shows how stubborn this team is,” said Brondello.
Without Nurse, Shey Peddy stepped in and played another solid game, taking the lead free throws with 4.8 seconds left. She finished with 15 points and six rebounds.
GETTING A MAIN START
Chicago decided to fly to Las Vegas on Friday before the final game was played. With a local tip on Sunday afternoon before Game 1, Coach James Wade thought it would be good for the team to get used to the time difference already and not lose a day of preparation on Saturday while traveling.
If Phoenix wins, the Mercury will have four titles, equaling the Houston Comets, Minnesota Lynx and Seattle Storm for the most in league history. The Mercury won in 2007, 2009, and 2014. … The Mercury sweeps three regular season games, but Parker missed the first two games while recovering from her ankle injury. … Brondello is married to Chicago assistant coach Olaf Lange. The two lived separately in the WNBA bubble last season to avoid potential conflict.
Former President Barack Obama tweeted his congratulations to the Chicago Sky to make it to the final.
“It’s always good to get out of Chicago, but this year is especially sweet. Congratulations to the (at) ChicagoSky for making it to the WNBA finals, and to the legend, (at) Candace_Parker for helping us all proud. We’ll keep our fingers crossed for you.”
It is not yet known whether Obama will attempt to attend Game 3 in Chicago on Friday night.