Diana Taurasi has the Phoenix Mercury back in the WNBA Finals for the first time since 2014.
Up next is a familiar foe — Candace Parker and the Chicago Sky.
These two teams met seven years ago for the championship — the last appearance for either team on the game's biggest stage. Taurasi and the Mercury swept the three-game series. They'll begin the best-of-five series in Phoenix on Sunday.
Taurasi scored 14 of her 24 points in the fourth quarter to help the Mercury beat second-seeded Las Vegas 87-84 on Friday night in Game 5 of their semifinals series. Chicago took out top-seeded Connecticut in the other semi in four games.
It's the first time since the WNBA changed its playoff format in 2016 that neither of the top two teams made it to the finals. Phoenix was the fifth seed and Chicago the six.
“It’s hard,” Taurasi said. “It’s been now, what, seven, eight seasons? And when you get there, you think you’re just always going to get there. And that’s not the case. I know the magnitude of this, and these guys have been great all year. This team has just been resilient all year. We’ve had injuries, this and that, and we’ve always been able to just stay together and like each other. Which is a big deal.”
Chicago faced adversity itself this season, overcoming a 2-7 start while Parker was recovering from an ankle injury. Parker decided to come home to Chicago after spending the first 13 years of her career in Los Angeles.
Now she has the Sky three victories away from winning their first championship.
‘It’s kind of like a full circle moment," Parker said. “To look up in the stands and see people I started playing basketball in front of. It’s super special. This is a special group. The way you face adversity has built our character and revealed it. All of us going into playoffs believed we would be sitting here.”
Chicago advanced to the finals by beating Dallas in the opening round before knocking off Minnesota. The Sky have one of the top offensives in the league led by point guard Courtney Vandersloot, who had the second-ever triple-double in playoff history in Game 1 of the team's series against Connecticut.
“Chicago is playing really good ball, they are peaking at the right time,” Phoenix coach Sandy Brondello said. “They are playing their best ball at the right time of the season. It’s a big challenge for us, they will be more rested but hopefully, we can make this a good series and have some success and win the championship.”
Here are other tidbits from the WNBA Finals:
Phoenix won Game 5 without starting guard Kia Nurse, who tore an ACL in the opening minute of the fourth game of the playoffs. The Mercury also were missing backup Sophie Cunningham with a strained calf. Brondello said she is hoping Cunningham will be back for some of the Finals.
“We are facing a lot of adversity at the moment but it shows how tough-minded this team is,” Brondello said.
Without Nurse, Shey Peddy stepped in and had another solid game, making the go-ahead free throws with 4.8 seconds left. She finished with 15 points and six rebounds.
GETTING A HEAD START
Chicago decided to fly to Las Vegas on Friday before the finals matchup was set. With a noon local tip on Sunday for Game 1, coach James Wade thought it would be beneficial to the team to already be acclimated to the time difference and not lose a day of preparation on Saturday while traveling.
If Phoenix does win, the Mercury will have four titles, tying the Houston Comets, Minnesota Lynx and Seattle Storm for the most in league history. The Mercury won in 2007, 2009 and 2014. ... The Mercury swept the three games in the regular season, but Parker missed the first two games while recovering from her ankle injury. ... Brondello is married to Chicago assistant coach Olaf Lange. The two lived apart in the WNBA bubble last season to avoid any potential conflicts.
Former President Barack Obama tweeted his congratulations to the Chicago Sky for making the finals.
“It’s always good to be from Chicago, but this year is especially sweet. Congratulations to the (at) ChicagoSky for making it to the WNBA finals, and to the legend, (at) Candace_Parker for making all of us proud. We'll be rooting for you.”
There's no word yet if Obama will try and attend Game 3 on Friday night in Chicago.
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