Minus two rotation players and facing elimination on the road, the Phoenix Mercury gutted out a huge win over the Las Vegas Aces for the franchise’s fifth WNBA Finals. The intensity on both sides to start the game was incredible, and as tends to happen in big-time playoff games, the superstars set the stage.
Brittney Griner was engaged and aggressive from the jump, scoring 15 points in the first half. Her Phoenix frontcourt mate, Brianna Turner, brought the same energy on defense and on the glass, tallying two steals, two blocks and seven boards in the first half alone.
The glue for Phoenix, despite being without starting wing Kia Nurse (torn ACL) and backup wing Sophie Cunningham (ankle), came in the form of veteran guard Shey Peddy, who matched Turner with two steals and a gutsy 11 points.
Playoff @SheyP11 is on
Anyone else getting déjà vu?
— WNBA (@WNBA) October 9, 2021
On the other side, reigning MVP A’ja Wilson reminded everyone why she has that trophy on her shelf, mustering up a fire only she has to open this win-or-go-home contest. Wilson attacked the offensive glass and found her way into nine points in the first half.
As with Phoenix, it was a battle of post players, with fellow Aces starter Liz Cambage also coming out with a level of intensity that matched the stakes of the game. Cambage battled Griner down low and tapped into the Aces’ offensive flow herself.
Las Vegas took over to open the third, powering to a 14-0 run led by Wilson, Cambage, and point guard Chelsea Gray. After the Aces ripped off a 24-0 run in the third period in Game 4 on Wednesday, the recipe looked the same in Game 5, as Las Vegas brought a connectivity and effort level that the depleted Mercury couldn’t match.
BUCKETS AFTER BUCKETS FOR THE @LVAces
They are cookin' and are on a 14-0 run
— WNBA (@WNBA) October 9, 2021
The legendary Diana Taurasi took a seat with about 4:30 to go in the third after missing her fifth triple of the night, the Aces still in control of the game. Griner was able to get to the line a couple times, but Phoenix went more than six minutes without a made field goal. Taurasi checked back in at 3:08.
The Las Vegas lead stayed at eight throughout the period, and after the quarter ended, Taurasi got into a scuffle with Aces guard Jackie Young after Young collided with Taurasi on the sideline after a made basket. The two were in one another’s faces for several moments before officials broke it up.
On the first possession of the fourth quarter, Griner came up limping after nailing a right-handed hook shot in the post. It continued to bother her for several moments, before Taurasi also seemed to knick the left ankle sprain that has bothered her all season. The entire Mercury team hobbled, Taurasi stepped up.
The WNBA’s all-time leading scorer came around a screen at the top of the key and nailed a massive three to give the Mercury a lead for the first time in the second half, capping off a 10-0 run to put Phoenix up, 68-66.
Down suddenly, Las Vegas went back to its best offensive formula, putting the ball in the hands of Kelsey Plum in the pick and roll. Plum responded with six points and an assist in the next few possessions, culminating in a killer layup to put the Aces back on top.
As clutch time set in, the score tied at 81, Taurasi answered. Las Vegas’ ball movement continued to create great looks, and the Aces were able to find a mismatch under the basket with Cambage posted up on Taurasi. She tossed a shot up, but Taurasi smacked it off course, blocking a go-ahead layup. On the other end, Taurasi got a pass in transition and nailed a three to go up, 84-81.
Gray quickly responded with a three of her own to tie it back at 84.
When Phoenix got the ball back, Taurasi tossed up an errant shot trying to draw a foul, but Peddy recovered the ball and was able to draw a foul on a three-point attempt of her own. Peddy made two of three free throws to give the Mercury a two-point lead.
The Aces called a timeout, drawing up an inbounds play for Wilson. She drove to the hoop from the left elbow, but Griner stayed with her, blocking Wilson’s shot at the rim to seal Phoenix’s win and their fifth trip to the WNBA Finals.