Rejuvenated Sky challenge Mercury in WNBA Finals
PHOENIX (AP) Glance at the regular-season records and the Phoenix Mercury would seem to be a shoe-in to win the WNBA Finals over the Chicago Sky.
Not so fast.
Chicago finally has all of its players, and the Mercury know the Sky's 15-19 regular-season record is deceiving.
Phoenix's Diana Taurasi calls Chicago ''probably one of top two or three teams in the league.''
The Sky better be good, because Phoenix enters Sunday's Game 1 with an 18-game home winning streak. The Mercury haven't lost in Phoenix since May 23, to San Antonio in the third game of the season.
The Mercury beat Chicago twice in the regular season, but the Sky were missing star forward Elena Delle Donne and point guard Courtney Vandersloot for both games.
''We're all going to have to play our best basketball in order to compete and get some wins out of this,'' Delle Donne said.
Delle Donne and Vandersloot each missed 17 regular season games, Delle Donne because of a recurrence of Lyme disease, Vandersloot with a knee injury. The list goes on. Center Sylvia Fowles missed the first 14 games due to hip surgery, and guard Epiphanny Prince was out the first seven games due to physical and mental exhaustion.
''We've faced so much adversity,'' Delle Donne said. ''I think that carries us through.''
Chicago isn't completely healthy. Delle Donne is nursing a sore back.
''I'm doing all right,'' she said, ''been doing a lot of treatment, getting a lot of work done. Still working on it. Hopefully tomorrow I'll be even better. ... It's not fun having a sore back, but I'll be able to work through it, to push through.''
Phoenix rolled to a 29-5 regular-season, the best mark in league history. The Mercury swept Los Angeles in two games in the first round of the playoffs, then pulled out a 2-1 triumph over Minnesota in what many thought was a matchup of the league's two best teams.
The Mercury vow no letdown against Chicago.
''It was a tough series (against Minnesota),'' Brittney Griner said, ''but when you hear that word `Finals', you're refreshed, especially for me. This is my first one.''
The 6-foot-8 Griner is surrounded by experience, including Taurasi and Penny Taylor, teammates on the Mercury's two WNBA championship teams, in 2007 and 2009.
''We don't care about anything but getting the championship,'' Taylor said. ''That's been our focus all year. A lot of these players have made sacrifices to get here and they're not going to relax now that we're so close.''
Taurasi is coming off a 31-point, 7-assist performance in Phoenix's 96-78 victory over Minnesota in the deciding Game 3 of the Western Conference finals. She heaved one in from just beyond halfcourt at the third-quarter buzzer, part of an 18-0 run.
''I've played with her so long now that I know she can do that,'' Taylor said. ''(tilde)We know in big moments she can do it, and so we look to her to do that and she really came through. She's done it throughout the year so we weren't surprised.''
Both Phoenix coach Sandy Brondello and Chicago coach Pokey Chatman called Taurasi ''the best player in the world.''
Through the season, Taurasi was mostly a distributor, not a big scorer, on a team loaded with talent.
''I can honestly say we've been a little family this summer,'' Taurasi said. ''We've stuck together, we enjoy being around each other.''
In the finals for the first time, Chicago fought its way through as the East's No. 4 seed in dramatic fashion.
Trailing by 17 early in the fourth quarter, the Sky rallied to beat the East's top-seed Atlanta 81-80 on the road in the deciding Game 3 of the first round, the biggest fourth-quarter comeback in WNBA playoff history.
''It just taught us that no matter how far behind we were,'' Delle Donne said, ''we can always come back.''
In Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals, Chicago beat Indiana 86-84 in double overtime. The Sky went on to win Game 3 in Indiana. Chicago is 3-1 on the road in the playoffs.
Winning in Phoenix, with a loud crowd against them, will be the Sky's biggest challenge yet.
''They're passionate fans,'' Brondello said. ''They're engaged fans. They love the Mercury.''