After everything that has occurred to the Phoenix Mercury this season, the team has kept its postseason hopes alive on the very final day of the regular season.
And of course, it comes in dramatic fashion with the Chicago Sky meeting the Mercury for the final meeting of the two Finals teams from last season.
Both are coming into Footprint Center on Sunday at 2 p.m. with different intentions.
The Sky are interlocked with the Las Vegas Aces for the top seed in the playoffs and can clinch it with a win and a loss from the Aces against the Seattle Storm. The Aces will tip off against the Storm at noon, two hours prior to the Sky’s meeting with the Mercury. The Sky can also clinch with a loss from the Aces and a win from the Connecticut Sun against the Minnesota Lynx. The Sun and Lynx will meet at 10 a.m. Pacific time.
Even with the Sky’s fate nearly settled before the game, it won’t diminish the team’s efforts that will be put on against the Mercury. At Friday’s game against the Dallas Wings, several Sky players and head coach James Wade were in attendance.
The Mercury already understand that no matter what happens prior to the game with its own fate, it will have to win against a tough Sky team.
The Sky lead the league in assists with 24.2 per game and have the best field goal percentage at 48.2 percent. Courtney Vandersloot averages 6.5 assists per game, good for second in the league.
“We’re both two different teams. We’re both in a very different scenario where they’re playing for the first seed and we’re just playing to get in. I think both teams are motivated to play really hard and both will put the best on the court,” Diana Taurasi said.
The Mercury can clinch with a win, but it can also get in with a loss from the Lynx.
“We are very happy to be playing the last game of the season where we’re in control of our own destiny to make the playoffs. I would say there were some stretches of the season where no one would think that was even a possibility. It could even be a stretch over a week ago. I’m so impressed with our team, their resolve, their effort, their grittiness,” Mercury head coach Vanessa Nygaard said.
Even without Taurasi or Skylar Diggins-Smith's help on the floor, the Mercury have relied on its guard-heavy approach and saw one of its best all-around efforts in a high stakes game against the Wings. All five starters have eight or more points and four were in double figures.
Shey Peddy continues to thrive under the pressure-filled environment and has averaged 19.7 points with 7.3 rebounds and 5.0 assists over the last three games.
Sophie Cunningham, a potential candidate for Most Improved Player, has shot 50 percent from the 3-point line and averages 19.3 points over the last three games. Cunningham moved up from being a small forward to a power forward throughout this season after the departure of center Tina Charles.
“I think Sophie has arrived. We’ve seen in the last three or four years, the first round against New York last year in the playoffs, Game 1 against Chicago. We’ve seen these spurts of Sophie, who is an explosive, offensive player, and then on top of that, the little things that she does on the court that really makes a team work. She’s just stepped up into that position and never complained,” Taurasi said.
This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Mercury to end regular season against Sky with playoffs on the line