WNBA playoffs 2022: Chelsea Gray, top-seeded Aces withstand resilient Mercury's push

Resiliency can’t convey just what this Phoenix Mercury team has gone through this season.

The No. 8 seed Mercury hung around with the top-seeded Las Vegas Aces for the entire game despite being without many star players and suffering a devastating injury late in the game.

The Aces pulled out the 79-63 win in Game 1 of the best-of-three first-round series of the WNBA playoffs at Michelob ULTRA Arena in Las Vegas on Wednesday.

Phoenix’s Shey Peddy suffered what appeared to be a serious lower-leg injury in the third quarter. Teammate Reshanda Gray carried Peddy toward the locker room as the Mercury bench was visibly shaken. The team ruled Peddy out for the rest of the game.

The Mercury also were missing Skylar Diggins-Smith, who is not with the team for personal reasons, and Diana Taurasi, who is dealing with a right quad injury. Taurasi’s recovery timeline is unknown. Diggins-Smith is unlikely to return after the Mercury put her on the partial season suspension list.

Las Vegas Aces guard Chelsea Gray drives around Phoenix Mercury forward Brianna Turner during the first half in Game 1 of a WNBA first-round playoff series on Aug. 17, 2022, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

Phoenix was a WNBA Finalist last season, but plans for a return trip were derailed this season. Brittney Griner is still wrongfully detained in Russia. Kia Nurse missed the entire season after tearing her ACL in the Finals. The team signed Tina Charles in the offseason, but she left the Mercury in June through a contract divorce. First-year coach Vanessa Nygaard has had to balance a lot.

The Aces, one of the league’s highest-powered offenses, was stymied throughout the game. Chelsea Gray limped to the bench in the third quarter, but returned shortly after. She was key to the Aces’ fourth-quarter push. Gray finished with 17 points, four rebounds and four assists. Kelsey Plum led the Aces with 22 points and A’ja Wilson had eight points and 12 rebounds. Kiah Stokes added eight points and 13 rebounds.

The Aces were without Dearica Hamby (knee bone contusion), who is out for at least another week.

For Phoenix, Diamond DeShields, who won an WNBA title with the Chicago Sky last season, had a team-high 18 points. Brianna Turner had 16 rebounds.

How the Aces won Game 1

It wasn’t pretty, but Las Vegas did what it needed to do to keep a depleted Mercury team at bay. Gray took over in the fourth quarter, powering the Aces each time the Mercury got close.

Gray was the lone bright spot in a stagnant Aces offense. Without her, this game would have looked a lot different. The Mercury’s Megan Gustafson was called for a flagrant 1 foul, which seemed to fuel Gray. She scored the Aces’ next seven points to give the top seed the fuel it needed to close out the game.

What the Mercury can do to even the series

Really, Diggins-Smith and/or Taurasi on the floor would make this series more balanced. The Mercury aren’t set up to withstand their absences. There’s a reason this is the 1-vs.-8 matchup, and it showed in Game 1. The Aces have the advantage in nearly every aspect in this series.

The extent of Peddy’s injury will also be key. A depleted Mercury roster can’t withstand many more subtractions. Without Playoff P, Game 2 could get ugly fast, sending the Mercury into an uncertain offseason.

Aces vs. Mercury series schedule

Game 1: Las Vegas 79, Phoenix 63

Game 2 (Saturday): Phoenix at Las Vegas, 9 p.m. ET on ESPN2

Game 3 (Tuesday, if necessary): Las Vegas at Phoenix, 10 p.m. ET on ESPN

WNBA playoffs 2022: Follow all the first-round action live, including TV schedule, lineups, injury reports and more