The Phoenix Mercury are heading to the WNBA Finals for the first time since 2014. Late on Friday night, the Mercury outlasted the Las Vegas Aces in a Game 5 thriller 87-84 to win their semifinals series 3-2. They'll now take on the Chicago Sky, with Game 1 of the Finals set for Sunday.
Brittney Griner led the way for the Mercury with 28 points, nine rebounds and one block in another brilliant playoff performance. That one block was the biggest play of the game, as Griner stuffed A'ja Wilson on a potential game-tying shot in the final seconds to seal the win. Diana Taurasi, meanwhile, added 24 points, including a number of clutch 3-pointers in the fourth quarter.
The Aces used a huge 14-0 run to take control in the third quarter, but their double-digit lead didn't last long. And down the stretch they just couldn't quite get it done. Chelsea Gray and Kelsey Plum went for 22 points, while A'ja Wilson added 21 points and 10 rebounds in defeat.
Here are some key takeaways from the game:
Griner delivers yet again
Brittney Griner was arguably the best player in the league after the Olympic break, and she's carried that impressive form into the postseason. But in Game 4 earlier this week, she struggled. She missed a number of looks around the basket, and finished with just 13 points in the Mercury's loss. That wasn't going to happen again.
Griner bounced back and delivered another brilliant performance for the Mercury, coming up with clutch plays on both sides of the ball to get them back to the Finals for the first time since 2014. Her 28 points were the most she's scored in a playoff game since 2018, and she added nine rebounds and one game-saving block for good measure.
Her rejection on A'ja Wilson is going to get the headlines, and for good reason. With just 4.8 seconds remaining, the Aces had the ball with a chance to tie or take the lead. They got the ball in to Wilson, who initially got the step on Griner and looked to have a path to the rim. But Griner was an All-Defensive performer for a reason, and recovered to deny Wilson at the rim, and do so without fouling.
That was the biggest play of the season for the Mercury, and one of the biggest of Griner's career. But it's worth noting that the Mercury wouldn't have even had the lead if it wasn't for her work on the other end of the floor. In the span of 81 seconds late in the fourth, Griner scored six straight points for the Mercury to help turn a four-point deficit into a tie game. When it looked like the game was going to get away from them, Griner kept them afloat. In all, she scored nine of her 28 points in the fourth.
Taurasi comes up clutch
Diana Taurasi did not get off to a great start in Game 5. The Aces were doing a great job crowding her and making things difficult, and at the halftime break she had six points on 2 of 7 from the field. In particular, the physicality from the likes of Jackie Young and Chelsea Gray seemed to be flustering Taurasi.
But you don't become one of the best players of all time by letting a little contact and a bad half ruin your night. Taurasi, as she so often has throughout her career, came alive when it mattered most and made big shots over and over down the stretch. She finished with 14 of her 24 points in the fourth quarter, and went 3 of 4 from 3-point land.
She started early in the frame, draining back-to-back 3s to complete the Mercury's comeback from a 10-point deficit and give them their first lead since early in the second half. Then she began forcing her way into the paint, hitting a layup and getting to the line multiple times. Finally, with the score tied at 81-81 and just over a minute to play, she got loose at the top of the key and buried a triple that was good from the second it left her hands.
While this isn't the time to get into the WNBA GOAT debate, games like this are exactly why Taurasi has a case. Despite her poor first half, despite her ankle injury, you just knew that she was going to make plays late in the game. That's exactly what she did, and now she has a chance to add to her legacy with what would be fourth ring.
Peddy steps up amid injuries
A few days ago, the Mercury had just secured their second straight blowout win to take a 2-1 series lead, and had a chance to close things out at home. Everything was looking good, then they found out Sophie Cunningham would be sidelined due to a calf strain, and Kia Nurse tore her ACL less than a minute into Game 4. The Aces won that game easily to tie the series at 2-2, and suddenly everything had flipped.
The Mercury were now staring at a winner-take-all Game 5 on the road without Cunningham and Nurse, two key members of their rotation. It was a daunting task, but they knew the likes of Griner, Taurasi and Skylar Diggins-Smith would be ready. They just needed someone else to step up and help take a little bit of pressure off that big three.
Shey Peddy answered the call. The veteran guard is no stranger to big moments in the postseason. In the bubble last season, Peddy drained a game-winning 3-pointer at the buzzer to life the Mercury over the Washington Mystics in the first round. On Friday night she was ready to go again and came up with 15 points, five rebounds, two assists and three steals in an impressive all-around performance.
If that wasn't enough, she also hit the go-ahead free throws with 4.8 seconds left after securing a loose ball and drawing a foul. The Mercury are going to need more of that from Peddy in the Finals.
Where do the Aces go from here?
Ever since they drafted A'ja Wilson with the No. 1 overall pick in 2018, and acquired Liz Cambage in 2019 from the Dallas Wings, the Aces have been among the title contenders. So far they haven't been able to lift the trophy, however, and they'll now have to wait at least another year.
In 2019, they reached the semifinals but ran into a terrific Washington Mystics team that went on to win it all. Then there was the bubble season in 2020, where they managed to get to the Finals despite playing without Cambage and Kelsey Plum, but never really had a chance against the Seattle Storm. This season was the one where you felt like they really could go all the way.
Instead, they're heading home early yet again, and it leaves you wondering where they go from here. This is three straight years where this core has failed to live up to expectations in the playoffs, and even adding dynamic playmakers like Chelsea Gray and Riquna Williams to the backcourt didn't make the difference. Heading into the winter, Cambage, Williams and Angel McCoughtry are all unrestricted free agents, while Wilson is a restricted free agent.
There's no question that Wilson will be back, but it will be interesting to see what sort of moves the Aces make around her. Do they just try to run it back and hope things break their way next season? Or do they look to shake things up and build a team that's better suited for playoff success?