In a loud Footprint Center where the crowd of 13,685 included members of the Phoenix Suns and Portland Trail Blazers who had just played a preseason game, the Phoenix Mercury won Game 2 of the WNBA Finals on Wednesday night, outlasting the Chicago Sky 91-86 in overtime. But the final score doesn’t indicate just how closely contested the game was or how good the individual moments were.
The box score certainly doesn't show the impact of Brianna Turner or Sophie Cunningham.
Understandably, the Mercury are known for All-Stars Diana Taurasi, Brittney Griner and Skylar Diggins-Smith, but their role players stepped up in key moments Wednesday to help even the best-of-five series at 1-1.
Turner had three steals, two blocks and nine rebounds, tapping the ball out to Diggins-Smith or Taurasi numerous times to spark the Phoenix fast break. The Mercury had 11 fast-break points, and Turner’s play was no small reason.
“Breezy is a problem. What she does for us will never show up on this," said Taurasi, holding up a copy of the box score. "But the only reason we're here is because of her, and we all know that on our team, coaching staff, the people around this team. We literally are what Brianna Turner is every single day, and she's got us here with the way she's played, her uncanny ability to affect the game without having the ball is just second to none.”
Cunningham, who was back in the lineup after missing two games with a strained calf, added nine points. More important than her total was when she scored. Cunningham’s points came in the moments Phoenix needed a spark.
Of course, Phoenix's Big Three contributed plenty, and the box score reflected their impact. Griner had 29 points, nine rebounds and two blocks. Diggins-Smith had her best game of the playoffs with 13 points and 12 assists. Taurasi was cold early on, but she hit clutch 3-pointers late in the game, including one 3 that drew a foul for a four-point play to begin the scoring in OT.
“That's the GOAT right there," Griner said. "We know what D can bring. Doesn't matter how she starts the game or whatever. You know when the time is going down, when it's crunch time, we have all the faith in the world that D is going to make those shots and make big plays for us. She does it year in, year out."
The Mercury’s defense was effective in forcing Chicago to take bad shots. Courtney Vandersloot, the league leader in assists, had 14 of them to go with her team-leading 20 points.
“I think there were key parts of the game where we turned it over, could have had a 2 and gave up a 3. I know my turnover, where Brianna Turner from behind got me, they came down (and) got a layup," said Candace Parker, who had 13 points, nine rebounds and three assists. "So I think there were a number of plays during the game, whether we were up or not, where it was like, it hurt us,”
Now the Finals head to Chicago for two games at a sold-out Wintrust Arena on Friday and Sunday. Parker, who grew up in the suburbs of Chicago, said the buzz around this series speaks to how much the league has grown.
“Everyone always asks how do we know when the WNBA is growing," Parker said. "I'm one of those that I've got to believe it with my own eyes. So I went on, tried to buy a ticket to Wintrust — because a lot of times it's sold out but you can still get tickets — and there were no tickets. Went on Ticketmaster and the resale value was amazing.
"First, I think it's great for our fans. It's great for the city of Chicago. And it's great for the WNBA for that to happen."