LAS VEGAS (AP) – When Phoenix Mercury’s coach Sandy Brondello was asked what the difference was in the fourth quarter, she had a simple answer: It was Diana Taurasi.
Taurasi scored 14 of her 24 points in the fourth quarter, and Brittney Griner had 28 points and nine rebounds to lead the Mercury to beat Las Vegas Aces 87-84 in Game 5 of the semifinals on Friday night to advance to the WNBA Finals for the first time. time since 2014.
“Diana making shots,” Brondello said. That’s what changed him. That gave us hope. I think we played with a lot of poise. That comes from the development of chemistry, but Diana Taurasi, that was pretty big. “
Taurasi was 0 of 5 from 3-point range entering the fourth quarter with the Mercury trailing 66-58. The Aces, who were down 44-42 at halftime, used a 14-2 run to start the third quarter for a 10-point lead, the biggest in the game.
Phoenix had its own 10-0 streak to start the fourth, capped by consecutive 3s from Taurasi to give the Mercury a 68-66 lead with 7:31 left.
“We were in the group (coming into the room) and we just yelled, ‘three possessions,'” Phoenix guard Skylar Diggins-Smith said. “People said, ‘undermine, remove.’ We didn’t need to undermine. We were there. “
Taurasi, who was 5-of-15 in Game 4 on Wednesday, made a 3-pointer with 1:12 left to give the Mercury an 84-81 lead.
Aces guard Chelsea Gray responded with a 3 just 6 seconds later to tie.
“I think it’s a good learning experience for us, hopefully,” Las Vegas coach Bill Laimbeer said. “They have two outstanding and mentally strong players in Taurasi and Griner. They wanted that on their team. … We need to acquire that trait. Either we grow up or we acquire something, but it’s something this team has consistently lacked throughout the year. ”
Gray and Kelsey Plum each scored 22 points for Las Vegas, and A’ja Wilson added 21 points and 10 rebounds. The Aces reached the Finals last season in the Florida bubble before being swept away by the Seattle Storm.
“It’s really hard to get my thoughts in order right now. We were so close, ”said Plum, the league’s Sixth Player of the Year. “I wouldn’t want to do it with another group, and I know we will be back. I have no doubt in my mind and the result will be different. “
Shey Peddy made two of three free throws with 4.8 seconds left to give the Mercury an 86-84 lead, and Griner added one from the line to close the score. Griner also blocked Wilson with 0.7 seconds remaining to secure the victory.
“Speechless,” Griner said. “I am proud of the team. It doesn’t matter how you get it. We got the victory. “
Las Vegas outrebounded Phoenix 38-26. … Aces center Liz Cambage scored 10 points and 11 rebounds in 29:15, the most she has played since returning to the lineup after testing positive for COVID-19.
THE GREATNESS OF GRINER
The last time the Mercury made it to the Finals, Griner was in his second season out of Baylor. He will get his second chance at a championship after showing signs of dominance in this series.
Griner averaged 25.6 points and shot 62.7 percent in all three games in Las Vegas.
“I didn’t know anything about anything in my sophomore year,” said 30-year-old Griner. “I learned a lot, I grew a lot. I learned a lot from everyone around me. Everything I do on the court, I acknowledge to my teammates, to the coaches. Hell, my wife even gives me breakdowns after games and stuff. “
ONE MORE FOR TAURASI
One more championship will give the 39-year-old Taurasi his fourth title and the fourth in Mercury’s history (2007, 2009, 2014). Mercury would join the Houston Comets, Minnesota Lynx and Storm as the only teams to win four championships.
A fourth title would put Taurasi in the same company as former UConn greats Maya Moore and her former teammate Sue Bird.
“The GOAT,” said Diggins-Smith, who is seeking his first championship. “She did some GOAT stuff tonight.”
UNTIL NEXT TIME
Mercury will face Chicago Sky in a 2014 final rematch, the last time either team has advanced this far. Game 1 is Sunday.
JOIN THE CONVERSATION