The Phoenix Mercury refuse to die.
Phoenix evened the 2021 WNBA Finals up at one game apiece with a 91-86 victory Wednesday at Footprint Center in Phoenix.
With the game tied at 74, Brittney Griner backed down Azura Stevens and hit a turnaround jumper inside to give the Mercury the lead. Kahleah Copper and Allie Quigley both missed opportunities to get the Sky level again on the other end.
Shey Peddy's layup added to the Mercury's lead before Copper got three points the hard way to make it a one-point game, 78-77. Peddy then made only one of two free throws, which left an opening for Courtney Vandersloot's game-tying layup with 4.4 seconds on the clock.
Phoenix quickly jumped out to a lead in overtime. Stevens tied things up, only for Diana Taurasi to hit a three with 1:24 on the clock. That was the turning point in the extra frame.
To get to this point, the Mercury already had to win two winner-take-all contests and recover after losing Game 1 to the Las Vegas Aces in the semifinals. That resilience is carrying over into the Finals.
Brittney Griner, C, Mercury: 29 points, nine rebounds, one assist, two blocks
Diana Taurasi, PG, Mercury: 20 points, four rebounds, one steal, two blocks
Kahleah Copper, SF, Sky: 15 points, 10 rebounds, one assist, one steal
Courtney Vandersloot, PG, Sky: 20 points, 14 assists, five steals, one block
Griner Digs Deep to Inspire Mercury
The Sky don't have much of an answer inside for Brittney Griner, which is the case for every team in the league. Amid an uncharacteristically quiet night from Taurasi until the late stages, Griner put Phoenix's offense on her shoulders.
Chantel Jennings @ChantelJennings
Brittney Griner has all of Phoenix's 10 points ... from all over the floor.<br><br>The ninth-year vet has just been different this year. She left the bubble early, didn't play overseas, focused on therapy this offseason and as a result, came into this season with a new focus. <a href="https://t.co/qhUg2BrW0l">pic.twitter.com/qhUg2BrW0l</a>
The 6'9" center even threw down a one-handed jam when she shed Azura Stevens and had a clear path to the basket.
Bleacher Report @BleacherReport
Brittney Griner dunk in the <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/WNBAFinals?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#WNBAFinals</a> 😤<br><br>(via <a href="https://twitter.com/PhoenixMercury?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@PhoenixMercury</a>)<a href="https://t.co/f1sxQeVToH">pic.twitter.com/f1sxQeVToH</a>
Phoenix needed her to be a one-woman attack. In addition to Taurasi playing a level below her usual, Skylar Diggins-Smith struggled, finishing 5-of-18 en route to an 13-point effort.
Sophie Cunningham did her best to serve as the X-factor Phoenix required in support of Griner as well.
A calf injury kept Cunningham out of the Mercury's last three games. On Monday, the 6'1" wing left little doubt as to her status for Game 2.
Beyond the nine first-half points she scored, her confidence and determination were infectious for her teammates and the home fans early on.
Heading into the WNBA Finals, the looming question for the Mercury was whether they'd have the energy necessary to finish the job. Cunningham was slowed by her calf problem, Taurasi has been battling a nagging ankle injury, and a torn ACL knocked Kia Nurse out for the rest of the playoffs.
Falling down into an 0-2 hole likely would've been a fatal blow.
Quigley Goes Cold
Candace Parker will be the sentimental favorite, but Copper might have strengthened her Finals MVP case Wednesday night in the event Chicago pulls through.
She may only be 6'1", but Copper was excellent at working the angles to get around box-outs and fighting for possession underneath the glass.
The 27-year-old can also be unstoppable when she builds up a head of steam.
Game 2 was also another playmaking masterclass from Vandersloot. The three-time All-Star reads the game differently, and her ability to thread the needle is almost unsurpassed in league history.
That <a href="https://twitter.com/Candace_Parker?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@Candace_Parker</a> and <a href="https://twitter.com/Sloot22?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@Sloot22</a> connection tho 🤝<br><br>Vandersloot has dished out 9 assists so far 🔥<br><br>📺 ESPN <a href="https://t.co/mUud54ceVk">pic.twitter.com/mUud54ceVk</a>
After shooting 3-of-10 from beyond the arc in Game 1, Allie Quigley had another night to forget, though. The three-time three-point champion shot 3-of-12 from the perimeter, somewhat dulling the effect of her 19 points.
The Mercury and Sky return to action Friday at Wintrust Arena in Chicago. Game 3 tips at 9 p.m. ET.