Canadians may still be waiting on a Toronto or Vancouver WNBA expansion team, but the Phoenix Mercury have given the north something to root for in the meantime.
Hamilton, Ont. native Kia Nurse, competing in her first-ever WNBA playoffs, is the only Canadian headed to the semifinals after Phoenix’s 85-80 overtime win over Seattle on Sunday.
The guard scored the Mercury’s final two points from the free-throw line with 15 seconds left, solidifying the victory.
“She was big for us,” Mercury coach Sandy Brondello said after the game Sunday. “We’re missing free throws and it’s like, ‘OK, next one up. Who’s next?’ And Kia made some big free throws at the end. So, really happy for her.”
While the rest of her team shot 54.2 percent from the free-throw line, the 25-year-old went 4-for-4.
Nurse finished Sunday’s game with 12 points and four rebounds after averaging 9.5 points and 3.6 boards through the regular season. The Storm previously got a front-row seat for her career-high when she sunk 28 points against them in July.
In the first round of the playoffs on Thursday, Nurse recorded eight points and six rebounds over New York, her previous team. The Liberty drafted the her 10th overall out of UConn in 2018 and traded her to the Mercury before the 2021 season.
“She’s been really big for us defensively,” said Brondello. “We brought her in as a shooter. She plays her role; she’s always playing hard. I think her defense has gotten better, to be quite honest. She’s really bought into what we want to do there and she competes.”
Before coming to Phoenix, Nurse was a star for the Liberty, where she averaged a team-high 12.2 points per game and 27.5 minutes per game last season. In just her second year in the league in 2019, Nurse was named a WNBA All-Star, becoming the third Canadian to earn the honor. She was voted a starter in the game as well as a participant in the 3-point contest.
The guard is one of three Canadians in the WNBA this year, a trio that includes the Minnesota Lynx’s Bridget Carleton and Natalie Achonwa. All three were on the Canadian national team this past summer. The team ranked fourth in FIBA heading into the Tokyo Olympics but fell short of a quarterfinal berth.
Nurse will compete alongside icons Brittney Griner, Skylar Diggins-Smith and WNBA all-time scoring leader Diana Taurasi on Tuesday when the Mercury tip off against Las Vegas Aces in Game 1 of the semifinals at 10 p.m. ET on ESPN2.