As Brittney Griner sat on the bench, the Phoenix Mercury won the 2014 WNBA Finals after defeating the Chicago Sky 87-82 in a hard-fought Game 3.
Despite a rough start, Diana Taurasi came through when it mattered, scoring 14 of her 24 points in a magnificent fourth quarter. Her late-game heroics, along with another 24 points from Candice Dupree, led the Mercury to solidify the series sweep without their star center.
The WNBA had more on Taurasi after the game:
The Mercury dominated Games 1 and 2, respectively winning by 21 and 29 points, but they spent the past three days fretting Griner's status for Game 3. The 6'8" center had a retinal procedure on Thursday that made her a game-time decision for Friday night's contest.
An hour before game time, the Mercury announced on their official Twitter page that Griner would not play.
The team also shared its star's frustration upon learning the news.
Yet she remained confident in her teammates' ability to finish the job without her.
During the season, the 23-year-old swatted 3.9 blocks per game, doubling the second-place Sylvia Fowles' 1.9 rejections per contest. According to Basketball-Reference, her 25.6 Player Efficiency Rating (PER) ranked fifth, and the frightening post presence led the league with 2.9 Defensive Win Shares. The huge loss immediately showed in Game 3.
Fowles quickly capitalized on Griner's absence, scoring eight points during the opening quarter. With the once off-limit paint now open for business, the Sky scored a majority of their first-quarter points down low, per the league's Twitter page.
Taurasi amplified her aggression without her fellow All-WNBA First Team peer. The 32-year-old attempted five three-pointers in the first half. The second of her two makes set a Finals record for conversions behind the arc.
The five-time scoring champion and 2009 Finals MVP held a major opportunity to cap off her third championship in style, and she eventually responded after a slow start. Retired NBA guard Eddie Johnson praised the legend.
Dupree, however, shouldered just as heavy of a burden during the evening. Former WNBA payer Chastity Melvin commended her first-half performance, as she went 7-of-10 with 14 points.
The two squads traded leads throughout a first half featuring nine lead changes, but the Mercury entered the locker room with a 45-43 lead fueled by a 57.1 field-goal percentage. For the Sun, Fowles led the way with 14 points while Elena Delle Donne tallied 11.
Nearly four minutes through a testy second half, Taurasi's frustration boiled over after coughing up her fifth turnover. She didn't make a single basket in the period, entering the fourth quarter at 4-of-14 shooting. The Chicago Sun-Times' Brian Sandalow pointed out the obvious at the time, although he looks foolish in hindsight.
Yet Dupree kept the Mercury afloat, trading baskets with Fowles and Della Donne to rise her point total to 20 entering the final quarter. Chicago entered the closing 10 minutes up two, but Taurasi then caught fire.
After the Mercury evened the score, Taurasi broke a 67-67 tie with a three-pointer and contested leaner. Around the five-minute mark, she banked a shot from behind the arc. When Courtney Vandersloot and Tamera Young each responded with a jumper, Taurasi answered right back with a three-point play.
The veteran claimed another Finals record, this time becoming the overall scoring leader.
ESPN States and Info added more detail:
Allie Quigley tied the game at 82 with 30 seconds remaining, boosting her point total to 19 off the bench. Then Taurasi once again spurned Chicago by making a heavily defended jumper and the ensuing free throw. It proved to be the game- and series-winner after Delle Donne bricked a three on the next possession.
Chicago took an improbable path to the Finals, sneaking into the playoffs at 15-19. Phoenix, on the other hand, demolished the WNBA, finishing at 29-5 with the most points scored and allowed. With Griner, the talent gap was too massive to yield a tightly contested series.
Following such a dominating the year, the sky is the limit with Griner at center. Taurasi recently signed a multi-year extension, so the dynamic duo will terrorize the league for years to come.
Although Chicago fell shy, Delle Donne gained indelible postseason experience during her sophomore campaign. The two-time All-Star, already one of the WNBA's biggest names at age 25, could very well blossom into this generation's Taurasi after scoring 23 points in a losing effort.
It may not matter, however, as Phoenix has arguably the greatest WNBA player ever in Taurasi and the top star now in Griner. This could mark the beginning of many championships for the Mercury.