Taurasi lifts Mercury in finals seconds
PHOENIX — The matchup of the best two teams in the WNBA came down to the final seconds and Diana Taurasi got the win for the Phoenix Mercury.
The 11-year veteran, who on Friday signed a multi-year extension with her only WNBA club, hit a 20-footer with 2.9 seconds left and Brittney Griner blocked a last-second layup attempt by Minnesota’s Lindsay Whalen to lift the Mercury over the Lynx 82-80 on Saturday, snapping the Lynx’ 11-game winning streak.
"It was kind of a simple play," Taurasi said. "There wasn’t much time left, so it was kind of get the best shot and hopefully it went in. And today it did, so. There were a lot of plays that led up to that that really kept us in the game."
Mercury coach Sandy Brondello was more distinct.
"That’s why she is the best player in the world," Brondello said. "She responded tonight and made big plays when we needed them."
The win gave Phoenix (26-4) a 2-1/2-game lead over the Lynx going into the last week of the regular season. The Mercury need one win or a Minnesota loss to clinch home court advantage throughout the playoffs. With the two best records in the WNBA, the teams would meet in the Western Conference finals if they advanced out of the first round.
Phoenix won two of the first three meetings, but Minnesota beat Phoenix 75-67 on July 31 to end the Mercury’s franchise record 16-game winning streak.
"This was a playoff game," Griner said. "They made two runs at the beginning of the game, we weathered the storm, we kept coming back and then at the end, we pulled it off."
Candice Dupree made a driving layup with 25 seconds left to give Phoenix an 80-78 lead.
Minnesota’s Maya Moore tied it with a runner over Griner with 7.9 seconds remaining, setting up the final sequence.
"I just thought the last five minutes our offensive execution, the quality of shots wasn’t there, it was for them," Lynx coach Cheryl Reeves said. "Kind of unfortunate, we were right there, throughout most of the game had the lead, and then once they took the lead, you could see the bounce in their step went up. It was great game. They made the plays at the end and we didn’t."
Moore led all scorers with 30 points for Minnesota (24-7) while Taurasi added 24 for the Mercury.
"We played hard, we had a lot of great hustle and effort but didn’t execute in the second half like we usually do," Moore said. "But we still shot a great percentage."
Minnesota shot 48.5 percent but had started the game making 10-of-15.
The Lynx had one last chance with Whalen streaking around the perimeter to the basket, looking for an open player. She tried a layup that was easily blocked by Griner, the new WNBA single-season block record holder.
"That’s a play we have run for (Whalen) for years," said Reeves. "It’s one of those things that when it doesn’t work you wish you had gone to a different play. But it’s a play that has been successful for us. Obviously Griner made a big play."
Seimone Augustus tried a jumper at the buzzer that went in and out.
Griner said her 119th block of the season is her new favorite.
"That block goes straight to the top, No. 1," said Griner, who had 19 points, 11 rebounds and two blocks.
DeWanna Bonner, charged with guarding Moore, the league’s leading scorer, added 16 points and seven rebounds for Phoenix.
Minnesota had won 11 straight — the second longest win streak in franchise history. Phoenix is 20-1 in its last 21 games with the lone loss coming to the Lynx.
Phoenix took the lead with 4:15 left when Griner set a pick on Lindsay Whalen, clearing the way for a Taurasi jumper. After Janel McCarville missed a 3-pointer, Taurasi led the break and hit another 17-footer.
However, Augustus answered back with a pair of baskets to give Minnesota a 78-77 lead with 2:25 left.
Minnesota led 64-61 going into the final period.
In the third quarter, things got testy when Taurasi shoved Moore for the first of three fouls she picked up in the period. Janel McCarville bumped Taurasi, leading the two of them to a standoff but the officials quickly jumped in and no additional fouls were called.