In a game befitting the winner-take-all moniker, it was only fitting that it came down to the wire.
With the game tied at 84, Phoenix’s Shey Peddy drew a foul on a 3-point attempt and knocked down two of her three free-throw attempts. But it was Brittney Griner on the other end who sealed it with a block on A’ja Wilson’s last-second layup attempt.
Griner then was fouled and made a free throw as the No. 5-seeded Mercury hung on for the 87-84 win over the No. 2 Las Vegas Aces to close out the semifinal series in front of an Aces-record 9,680 fans at Michelob Ultra Arena in Las Vegas on Friday night.
The Mercury will face the No. 6-seeded Chicago Sky in Game 1 of the WNBA Finals at 3 p.m. ET Sunday on ABC in Phoenix. The Sky were in Las Vegas on Friday and ready to make the short trip to Phoenix, ESPN reported on the Game 5 broadcast.
Diana Taurasi gets chippy, spurs big fourth-quarter run
As the third quarter came to a close, Aces forward Jackie Young and Diana Taurasi exchanged words, sparking the Mercury guard to spur her team on a 12-0 run to open the fourth quarter.
Taurasi knocked down back-to-back 3-pointers, her first of the game, during the span to help erase the Aces’ lead and flip the momentum. The game stayed close until late.
Griner led the Mercury with a game-high 28 points and nine rebounds. Taurasi finished with 24 points. She is 16-2 all-time in winner-take-all games.
— WNBA (@WNBA) October 9, 2021
There were six lead changes and multiple big runs by both teams. In the first four games of the series, there were only six lead changes combined.
The Mercury started hot and led at the end of the first quarter, which they accomplished in each of the semifinal games. After holding a two-point lead at halftime, the Mercury nearly succumbed to another big third-quarter run by the Aces.
The Aces went on a 14-0 run in the quarter after a 24-0 run in the third quarter of Game 4 forced the win-or-go-home Game 5 on Friday.
The Mercury struggled from deep without two of their top 3-point shooters in Kia Nurse (torn ACL) and Sophie Cunningham (calf strain). Phoenix missed its first eight shots from beyond the arc and finished shooting 5 of 21 (23.8%).
Kelsey Plum again shines off the bench for Aces
For the Aces, Kelsey Plum and Chelsea Gray each scored 22 points.
Plum was electric again off the bench, proving her mettle as Sixth Person of the Year. She hit her first three 3-pointers and was a key piece of the Aces' runs mid-game. She also had three rebounds and three assists.
Gray, who was the spark in Game 4, had six assists and four rebounds.
Wilson and Liz Cambage contributed double-doubles. Wilson had 21 points and 10 rebounds, while Cambage notched 10 points and 11 boards in her best game since returning from a bout with COVID-19 despite being fully vaccinated.
The Aces outrebounded the Mercury, 38-29.
Mercury, Sky set for WNBA Finals rematch
The Mercury and Sky’s Finals matchup is a rematch of the 2014 Finals, the last time either team advanced that far. Phoenix won the third of its three titles that season.
This is the Mercury’s fifth Finals appearance in franchise history; the Sky will be in their second Finals. The Mercury won titles in 2007, 2009 and 2014; the Sky have never won a title.
Phoenix could have the advantage in the series, both through Finals experience and outcomes this season. The Mercury won all three games against the Sky and held Chicago to 39% shooting from the field.
Phoenix won 84-83 at Wintrust Arena on June 1 and 77-74 at Footprint Center on June 3 without Taurasi, who was out with a fractured sternum. Taurasi played in the third game, a 103-83 Mercury win on Aug. 31 in Phoenix.
Another interesting sidenote comes on the sidelines: Mercury head coach Sandy Brondello will match up against her husband, Olaf Lange, who is an assistant coach for the Sky.
The Mercury also reached the WNBA Finals a few months after the Phoenix Suns, who also play at the Footprint Center, reached the NBA Finals. It is the first time that both a WNBA and NBA team from the same market made its respective Finals since the Los Angeles Lakers and Sparks both won titles in 2001 and 2002. The only other time it happened was in 1999 when both the New York Knicks and Liberty lost in the Finals.
2021 WNBA Finals schedule
Game 1: Sky at Mercury, 3 p.m. ET Sunday (ABC)
Game 2: Sky at Mercury, 9 p.m. ET Wednesday (ESPN)
Game 3: Mercury at Sky, 9 p.m. ET Friday (ESPN2)
Game 4: Mercury at Sky, 3 p.m. ET Oct. 17 (ESPN) (if necessary)
Game 5: Sky at Mercury, 9 p.m. ET Oct. 19 (ESPN2) (if necessary)