Diana Taurasi grimaced on the court docket as her Phoenix Mercury teammates rigorously pulled her to her toes late within the third quarter of Recreation 1 of the W.N.B.A. semifinals.
On the previous play, she’d ran into Las Vegas Aces ahead Dearica Hamby whereas attempting to dribble, skidding awkwardly to the ground. Taurasi limped up and down the court docket within the fourth quarter, favoring the left ankle that had saved her out of the final 4 regular-season video games and the primary spherical of the playoffs. She clenched her tooth and flexed the ankle on the Phoenix bench throughout the first a part of the fourth interval. Nonetheless, Taurasi completed with 20 factors and 6 assists within the sport, a 96-90 loss to the Aces.
Afterward, when requested how her ankle felt, Taurasi’s reply was transient.
“Nice,” she mentioned.
Her proof? A 37-point, eight-3-pointer onslaught 48 hours later within the fifth-seeded Mercury’s 117-91 rout of the No. 2 Aces at Michelob Extremely Area in Las Vegas on Thursday. One of the best-of-five collection now heads to Phoenix tied 1-1. Recreation 3 is on Sunday.
Regardless of Taurasi’s lingering well being considerations, the Mercury charged by means of the primary two rounds of the playoffs, knocking off the Liberty — in a game Taurasi missed — and the Seattle Storm, the defending champions, in single-elimination video games. Their subsequent task is a high-powered Las Vegas offense with A’ja Wilson, last season’s Most Valuable Player, and a bevy of different scoring threats.
The Aces earned a double-bye to begin the playoffs after a 24-8 regular-season report, the league’s second finest. They’d held off the Mercury in Recreation 1 with potent capturing from guards Kelsey Plum, who gained this season’s Sixth Participant of the Yr Award, and Riquna Williams.
Earlier than Thursday’s sport, Mercury heart Brittney Griner instructed reporters that she was treating it like a single-elimination sport.
“You’ve acquired to win this sport to remain alive. It’s a collection, however you undoubtedly don’t need to drop two going again dwelling. You’ve made it rather a lot more durable for your self,” she mentioned.
The outcome was a 25-point efficiency. She had 16 factors, 5 rebounds and a couple of assists within the first quarter.
“Brittney’s a beast. We’ve requested her to take action a lot this yr,” Taurasi mentioned on the TV broadcast after the sport, probably referring to Griner’s means to deal with double groups and tackle robust defensive assignments.
Griner finished second behind the Connecticut Solar’s Jonquel Jones within the M.V.P. voting this season, averaging a career-high 9.5 rebounds per sport together with 20.5 factors per sport. She’s the Mercury’s defensive anchor, with a 7-foot-3.5 inch wingspan, a top and an athleticism that make her almost unimaginable to shoot over.
Griner’s accountability this collection has been to protect Aces heart Liz Cambage, whose dominance within the submit and rim safety appears rivaled by solely Griner’s.
Cambage terrorizes opponents together with her means to pivot, rating and pull down rebounds within the submit as defenders hack at her physique. And the way in which she will alter photographs on protection was one cause the Aces by no means allowed greater than 99 factors throughout a regular-season sport this season. The tandem of Cambage and Wilson within the frontcourt had many individuals positive firstly of the season that Las Vegas was primed for one more deep playoff run.
Having been swept by the Storm in final yr’s finals, the Aces had the motivation to cruise by means of the common season with seven gamers who averaged double figures. They have been with out Cambage for a stretch after she examined constructive for the coronavirus, however now, at full power, the Aces are pushing to say the title that eluded final yr’s injury-ravaged group.
However they should get previous a Mercury group that’s equally decided to make a finals look. Phoenix is at its finest when its core gamers of Griner, Taurasi and Skylar Diggins-Smith knock down photographs from all around the ground the way in which they did Thursday night time. Griner made a handful of midrange jumpers. Diggins-Smith scored in any respect three ranges, and as for Taurasi, properly, the W.N.B.A.’s main profession scorer did what she usually does.
Taurasi mentioned after the sport that after an aggressive, bodily outing from the Aces on Tuesday, the Mercury responded in type in Recreation 2. They constructed a 17-point lead within the first quarter and by no means relinquished it, in contrast to in Recreation 1 when their early lead fizzled earlier than the top of the primary interval. Taurasi mentioned that with so many photographs entering into, “it makes the sport simpler for you. It was an enormous check for us in plenty of methods, and I feel we performed the best means.”
Aces Coach Invoice Laimbeer instructed reporters afterward that the group couldn’t give Griner open appears exterior the submit.
“Within the submit, she’s going to do her factor. That’s who she is,” he mentioned. “However the open photographs that she made tonight harm us rather a lot. We’ll take that shot at instances, however they went in. And we’ll take a few of Taurasi’s photographs some nights, too, however they went in. That’s who they’re. They’re nice gamers, and once they’re going like that, that’s what makes Phoenix’s group.”
Even when it appeared that the Mercury couldn’t maintain their high-percentage capturing, they added free throws to their arsenal. Their first miss from the free-throw line didn’t come till the third quarter, they usually made 23 of 24 free throws.
Wilson mentioned after the sport that Las Vegas wasn’t “locked in in any respect to our assignments.” She added: “It appears as if we have been a step behind. You possibly can’t do this towards an excellent Phoenix group.”
The Aces, with among the finest defenses within the league, had no means of stopping Taurasi on the perimeter. Her eight 3-pointers have been a playoff profession excessive.
After the sport, Ros Gold-Onwude of ESPN requested Taurasi how she felt about going 8-for-11 from 3-point vary.
Taurasi’s reply, once more, was succinct.
“I solely shot 11?” she mentioned.