There was something about being down eight points going into the fourth quarter of a do-or-die game that awoke the bear in Diana Taurasi.
After scoring just 10 points through three quarters, the 39-year-old delivered 14 in the fourth to lead the No. 5 Mercury to an 87-84 win over the No. 2 Aces in Game 5 of the WNBA semifinals on Friday.
After the game, before Phoenix head coach could even hear the end of the question about what gave Phoenix the win, she said, “Diana making shots. She gave us hope.”
On a fractured foot and a sprained ankle, Taurasi hit back-to-back 3-pointers to start the fourth quarter. Those buckets helped Phoenix finally re-gain the lead over Las Vegas, who had been ahead by 10 points through much of the third.
In the last two minutes of a tie game, the 6-foot point guard blocked a layup attempt by 6-8 Liz Cambage and immediately followed that with another 3-pointer.
“In these moments, you just can’t care anymore,” Taurasi nonchalantly said of her performance after the game.
"SHE'S THE GOAT!"Brittney Griner had to video bomb Diana Taurasi's interview with @ROSGO21 😅 pic.twitter.com/mltIh34AMu— ESPN (@espn) October 9, 2021
"SHE'S THE GOAT!"Brittney Griner had to video bomb Diana Taurasi's interview with @ROSGO21 😅 pic.twitter.com/mltIh34AMu
The Mercury made it through 16 games this season without their star, getting Taurasi back only recently, in the second round of playoffs against the Seattle Storm.
“It shows what happens when she’s on the court,” Brondello said. “That’s how special she is. We knew if we could just get her healthy, get her back, good things would happen.”
Taurasi wasn’t the only injured Phoenix player. Kia Nurse is out for the rest of the season after tearing her ACL in Game 4, and Sophie Cunningham, who played a big role in getting the Mercury through the first round of playoffs, sat out of Friday’s game with a calf injury.
Brondello hopes Cunningham will be back on Wednesday for Game 2 of the Finals at the latest.
Taurasi saved the Mercury in the fourth quarter, but giving Phoenix momentum in the first half was Shey Peddy, who took on a bigger role in the absence of Nurse and Cunningham. Finishing the game with a playoff-high 15 points, the 32-year-old led Phoenix to a 20-14 lead in the first 10 minutes with seven points and strong defense.
“She’s resilient, to be quite honest,” said Brondello. “She fits in, wherever you need her.”
Averaging 5.4 points per game this season, the guard came to the Mercury in August 2020 after getting waived by the Washington Mystics. She was drafted 23rd overall by the Chicago Sky in 2012 and subsequently cut in three WNBA training camps — 2012 by the Sky, then 2013 and 2019 by the Mystics — and didn’t make her WNBA debut until June 2019 with Washington.
Teammate Skylar Diggins-Smith’s eyes filled with tears when talking about Peddy during the postgame press conference.
“I’ve got so much respect for Shey,” she said through tears. “Her story is just so inspiring. She just works so hard … Even when my confidence is down, she pushes me. She’s just a great teammate.”
Patience is a virtue! 🙏🏾 https://t.co/VKO8mz5mef— Shey Peddy (@SheyP11) October 9, 2021
Patience is a virtue! 🙏🏾 https://t.co/VKO8mz5mef
Diggins-Smith is heading to her first WNBA Finals after eight years in the league, contributing 14 points and eight assists against the Aces on Friday.
Brittney Griner had a team-high 28 points, along with nine rebounds, to continue her dominant playoff run. She added the most important block of the night in the final two seconds of the game to keep the Aces from tying the game at 84.
The Mercury will face the Chicago Sky in a rematch of the 2014 WNBA Finals, which Phoenix won in three games with Taurasi and Griner. Neither team has been in the Finals since then.
Game 1 of the best-of-five championship series tips off Sunday at 3 p.m. ET on ABC, Sportsnet and NBA TV.
Jessa Braun is an editorial intern for Just Women’s Sports. She is also the Head of North American Content for the Women’s Sports Alliance. You can find her on Twitter @jessabraun.