By JOHN MARSHALL, AP Sports Writer
PHOENIX (AP) – Diana Taurasi has spent most of the night being stalked by Chicago’s Allie Quigley, a grueling exercise in an already tough game, especially for a 39-year-old.
As Game 2 of the WNBA Finals ended in a tight final, the Phoenix Mercury turned to the player recently named the greatest in 25 years of WNBA history.
Anyone who knows anything about Taurasi knows what happened next.
Citing the will that has made her formidable for so long, Taurasi scored eight of her 20 points in overtime to help the Mercury win the WNBA final at 1 with a 91-86 victory over Sky on Wednesday night.
“It’s the GOAT right there,” said Mercury center Brittney Griner, who dunked and had 29 points. “We know that time is passing, this is the critical moment, we have every confidence in the world that she is going to do big things for us.”
Griner carried the Mercury early and brought the Phoenix Suns players to sit off the field with his second career playoff dunk in the first quarter. She scored on a recovery jump to help give Phoenix a four-point lead late in regulation, but narrowly came close to blocking Courtney Vandersloot’s layup with 4.4 seconds left.
Overtime is Taurasi’s time and the league’s all-time top scorer has done what she does best.
Held six points in the three quarters, she opened overtime with a four-point play and added a 3-point pointer that gave Phoenix an 89-86 lead with 1:24 remaining. Taurasi then came up with massive defensive play, securing a steal with 36 seconds left, and Skylar Diggins-Smith sealed it on a layup with 12.8 seconds left.
“When you’re in that moment, the gravity of what’s going on, you can feel it and you try to focus on every possession, every time out, really communicating with each other,” Taurasi said.
Chicago backed up their win in Game 1 with another strong attacking performance, but couldn’t finish it. Vandersloot had some big shots while scoring 20 points and finished with 14 assists. Allie Quigley added 19 points.
Game 3 is Friday in Chicago.
“We have a lot of guns and when they take one out we have to be confident and move it (the ball),” said Candace Parker of Chicago, who has 13 points and nine rebounds. “We did it early, but we need a constant 40 or 45 minutes to move it.”
Chicago overcame the nervousness at the start and took advantage of shorthandedness and fatigue to win Game 1 91-77. Parker had a calming influence scoring 16 points and Kahleah Copper scored 21 points.
Phoenix was without guards Kia Nurse (ACL tear) and Sophie Cunningham (calf), and had to play two days after winning their semifinal series in Las Vegas.
The Mercury had more preparation time and Cunningham returned to the lineup after missing three games, but was scrapped early on.
Chicago, one of the best offensive teams in the WNBA, was at its best, its crisp passes creating open glances. Sky knocked them down early, hitting 7 of their first 12 shots to take a nine-point lead early on.
Phoenix went to Griner early and often. The 6-foot-9 center delivered with an early dunk after Sky inexplicably left her alone in the lane, leading the Suns to stand up, and had 14 points at halftime.
Cunningham hit a pair of 3s to bring the Mercury back from the initial deficit and hit another after a nasty crossover to help Phoenix shoot even 40 at halftime.
“We put her in the starting lineup, we just thought it was the right way for us to start with our rotations and the energy that it brings,” said Mercury coach Sandy Brondello. “She was great for us.”
Chicago increased their offense again to start the third quarter, building a seven-point lead. Phoenix responded by returning the ball to Griner to help the Mercury regain the lead in the fourth quarter.
Then it was Taurasi’s turn.
Game 2 was physical throughout and officials seemed to let the teams play, including a trade between Cunningham and Copper while battling for a ball on the ground.
Phoenix was the beneficiary, making 10 of 11 free throws while Chicago only shot four.
“I don’t understand what ‘let them play’ means,” Sky coach James Wade said. “I’ve never heard that in a game. If they’re going to the free throw line, we should.”
The third player in the big three from Phoenix herself had a great game.
Diggins-Smith controlled Arizona’s offense early on, finishing with 13 points, 12 assists and seven rebounds.
“Skylar would probably say, ‘I missed too many shots,’ but I thought with his ability to facilitate and give us some easy hoops, we needed it,” said Brondello.
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