Diana Taurasi grimaced on the courtroom as her Phoenix Mercury teammates rigorously pulled her to her toes late in the third quarter of Sport 1 of the W.N.B.A. semifinals.
On the previous play, she’d ran into Las Vegas Aces ahead Dearica Hamby whereas making an attempt to dribble, skidding awkwardly to the flooring. Taurasi limped up and down the courtroom in the fourth quarter, favoring the left ankle that had stored her out of the final 4 regular-season video games and the first 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 in the recreation, 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 in the fifth-seeded Mercury’s 117-91 rout of the No. 2 Aces at Michelob Extremely Area in Las Vegas on Thursday. The perfect-of-five sequence now heads to Phoenix tied 1-1. Sport 3 is on Sunday.
Regardless of Taurasi’s lingering well being considerations, the Mercury charged by way of the first two rounds of the playoffs, knocking off the Liberty — in a recreation Taurasi missed — and the Seattle Storm, the defending champions, in single-elimination video games. Their subsequent project is a high-powered Las Vegas offense with A’ja Wilson, final season’s Most Helpful Participant, and a bevy of different scoring threats.
The Aces earned a double-bye to start out the playoffs after a 24-8 regular-season document, the league’s second finest. They’d held off the Mercury in Sport 1 with potent taking pictures from guards Kelsey Plum, who gained this season’s Sixth Participant of the Yr Award, and Riquna Williams.
Earlier than Thursday’s recreation, Mercury middle Brittney Griner informed reporters that she was treating it like a single-elimination recreation.
“You’ve acquired to win this recreation to remain alive. It’s a sequence, however you positively don’t wish to drop two going again residence. You’ve made it so much tougher for your self,” she mentioned.
The consequence was a 25-point efficiency. She had 16 factors, 5 rebounds and a couple of assists in 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 recreation, possible referring to Griner’s potential to deal with double groups and take on robust defensive assignments.
Griner finished second behind the Connecticut Solar’s Jonquel Jones in the M.V.P. voting this season, averaging a career-high 9.5 rebounds per recreation together with 20.5 factors per recreation. She’s the Mercury’s defensive anchor, with a 7-foot-3.5 inch wingspan, a peak and an athleticism that make her practically unimaginable to shoot over.
Griner’s duty this sequence has been to protect Aces middle Liz Cambage, whose dominance in the submit and rim safety appears rivaled by solely Griner’s.
Cambage terrorizes opponents along with her potential to pivot, rating and pull down rebounds in the submit as defenders hack at her physique. And the approach she will be able to alter photographs on protection was one purpose the Aces by no means allowed greater than 99 factors throughout a regular-season recreation this season. The tandem of Cambage and Wilson in the frontcourt had many individuals positive at the starting of the season that Las Vegas was primed for one other deep playoff run.
Having been swept by the Storm in final yr’s finals, the Aces had the motivation to cruise by way of the common season with seven gamers who averaged double figures. They had been with out Cambage for a stretch after she examined optimistic for the coronavirus, however now, at full energy, the Aces are pushing to assert the title that eluded final yr’s injury-ravaged group.
However they must 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 throughout the flooring the approach they did Thursday evening. Griner made a handful of midrange jumpers. Diggins-Smith scored in any respect three ranges, and as for Taurasi, nicely, the W.N.B.A.’s main profession scorer did what she usually does.
Taurasi mentioned after the recreation that after an aggressive, bodily outing from the Aces on Tuesday, the Mercury responded in sort in Sport 2. They constructed a 17-point lead in the first quarter and by no means relinquished it, not like in Sport 1 when their early lead fizzled earlier than the finish of the first interval. Taurasi mentioned that with so many photographs entering into, “it makes the recreation simpler for you. It was a giant take a look at for us in plenty of methods, and I feel we performed the proper approach.”
Aces Coach Invoice Laimbeer informed reporters afterward that the group couldn’t give Griner open appears exterior the submit.
“In the submit, she’s going to do her factor. That’s who she is,” he mentioned. “However the open photographs that she made tonight damage us so much. We’ll take that shot at occasions, 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 after 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 taking pictures, they added free throws to their arsenal. Their first miss from the free-throw line didn’t come till the third quarter, and so they made 23 of 24 free throws.
Wilson mentioned after the recreation that Las Vegas wasn’t “locked in in any respect to our assignments.” She added: “It appears as if we had been a step behind. You possibly can’t try this towards a very good Phoenix group.”
The Aces, with one in every of the finest defenses in the league, had no approach of stopping Taurasi on the perimeter. Her eight 3-pointers had been a playoff profession excessive.
After the recreation, 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.