PHOENIX — Diana Taurasi spent most of the night being hounded by Chicago’s Allie Quigley, an exhausting exercise in an already-tough game, particularly for a 39-year-old.
As Game 2 of the WNBA Finals wound toward a tight finish, the Phoenix Mercury looked to the player recently named the greatest in the WNBA’s 25-year history.
Anyone who knows anything about Taurasi knows what happened next.
Summoning the will that’s made her great for so long, Taurasi scored eight of her 20 points in overtime to help the Mercury even the WNBA Finals at 1-all with a 91-86 win over the Sky on Wednesday night.
“That’s the GOAT right there,” said Mercury center Brittney Griner, who dunked and had 29 points. “We know time is going down, it’s crunch time, we have all the faith in the world she’s going to make big shots for us.”
Griner carried the Mercury early and brought the Phoenix Suns players sitting courtside to their feet with her second career playoff dunk in the first quarter. She scored on a turnaround jump to help give Phoenix a late four-point lead in regulation, but just missed blocking Courtney Vandersloot’s tying layup with 4.4 seconds left.
Overtime is Taurasi time and the league’s all-time leading scorer did what she does best.
Held to six points through three quarters, she opened overtime with a four-point play and added a 3-pointer that put Phoenix up 89-86 with 1:24 left. Taurasi then came up with a huge defensive play, getting 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 just laser in on each possession, each timeout, really communicating with each other,” Taurasi said.
Chicago backed up its Game 1 win with another strong offensive performance, yet couldn’t finish it off. Vandersloot hit 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 weapons and when they take one away, we have to be confident and move it (the ball),” said Chicago’s Candace Parker, who had 13 points and nine rebounds. “We did that early, but we need a consistent 40 or 45 minutes of moving it.”
Chicago overcame some early jitters and took advantage of the short-handed and fatigued to win Game 1 91-77. Parker was a calming influence while scoring 16 points and Kahleah Copper scored 21 points.
The Mercury had more prep time and Cunningham back in the lineup after missing three games, but was disjointed early.
Chicago, one of the WNBA’s top offensive teams, was at its free-flowing best, its crisp passing setting up open looks. The Sky knocked ’em down early, hitting 7 of their first 12 shots to take an early nine-point lead.
Phoenix went to Griner early and often. The 6-foot-9 center delivered with an early dunk after the Sky inexplicably left her alone in the lane, bringing the Suns players to their feet, and had 14 points by halftime.
Cunningham hit a pair of 3-pointers to bring the Mercury back from the early deficit and hit another after a wicked crossover to help Phoenix pull even at 40-all at halftime.
“We put her in the starting lineup, we just thought that was the right way for us to start with our rotations and the energy that she brings,” Mercury coach Sandy Brondello said. “She was great for us.”
Chicago revved up its offense again to start the third quarter, building a seven-point lead. Phoenix countered by getting the ball back in to Griner to help the Mercury surge back into the lead in the fourth quarter.
Then it was Taurasi’s turn.
Game 2 was physical throughout and the officials seemed to let the teams play, including an exchange between Cunningham and Copper while fighting for a ball on the floor.
Phoenix ended up the beneficiary, making 10 of 11 free throws while Chicago shot just 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 among Phoenix’s big three had a pretty game herself.
Diggins-Smith controlled Arizona’s offense from the start, finishing with 13 points, 12 assists and seven rebounds.
“Skylar would probably say, ‘I’ve missed too many shots,’ but I thought with her ability to facilitate and just give us some easy baskets, we needed that,” Brondello said.