WNBA playoff semifinals all even, shifts to Chicago, Phoenix

Sports

Phoenix Mercury guard Diana Taurasi (3) calls a play as she brings the up court against the Las Vegas Aces during the second half of Game 2 in the semifinals of the WNBA playoffs Thursday, Sept. 30, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/David Becker)

UNCASVILLE, Conn. (AP) — The WNBA semifinal playoff series are knotted at a game apiece and both could go the full five games based on the historic and gritty performances thus far.

Diana Taurasi and the Phoenix Mercury put on a shooting clinic as they scored the most points in a regulation playoff game in the league’s 25-year history in a win over Las Vegas on Thursday night. Eight months after having surgery to repair a torn Achilles’ tendon Alyssa Thomas provided a spark for the Connecticut Sun in a victory over the Chicago Sky.

Both series are now tied at 1-1 and play will shift to Chicago and Phoenix for the next set of games scheduled to tip off on Sunday.

“We brought a different mindset to the game, an aggression,” said Taurasi, who had a career playoff-high 37 points in the 117-91 victory. “That’s what these games come down to. In Game 1, they were the aggressors. They played more physical. Today we did that and sustained that for long periods.”

Taurasi barely missed despite dealing with an ankle injury that forced her to sit out the final four regular season games and the playoff opener against New York. She hit 10 of her 13 shots and made a career-high eight 3-pointers.

Her performance came shortly after Thomas had 15 points, 11 rebounds and six assists and provided a defensive lift for the Sun to even their series with Chicago. Thomas’ game was even more remarkable as she had returned two weeks earlier from a ruptured Achilles’ tendon injury she suffered in January. The 79-68 win over Chicago was only her fourth game back.

“You know, this is probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever gone through,” Thomas said of the injury, which she suffered in January while playing overseas. “There’s a lot of hard days. I’m a perfectionist, and I’m just so used to bouncing back from things. Days that weren’t good and I couldn’t get after it or push myself were frustrating.

“You really start from ground zero just to learn how to walk again. It was a slow process, a hard process. But you’ve just got to celebrate the little things.”

For Connecticut to keep the momentum going, the Sun will have to try and once again contain the potent Sky offense. When Chicago has scored less than 80 points this season the team has won just twice. In the opener, a double-overtime thriller, the Sky won 101-95 as Courtney Vandersloot had the second triple-double in WNBA playoff history.

Some other tidbits about the semifinals:

TRAVEL ADVENTURES:

While the Mercury and Aces had no problems getting flights to Phoenix, the Sky and Sun had a more difficult time. Connecticut coach Curt Miller said during his postgame press conference that his team would be split among three flights out of two different airports to get to Chicago. The Sky had to get up at 3:30 a.m. and split up to three different airports to make it home Friday.

Miller said he had the wacky travel arrangements so that his tall players wouldn’t have to be in the middle seats and would be more comfortable on the flights.

“I want you guys to hear this,” he said. “That’s what this league goes through. That’s what these amazing women, the best in the world at what they do, go through.”

TIP-INS:

There won’t be at least one sweep in the semifinals for only the second time since the WNBA changed its playoff format in 2016. With the exception of 2018 when both semis went five games, one of the series has been a three-game sweep. … The Mercury’s 68 points in the first half of Game 2 was a WNBA playoff record. … WNBA Sixth Woman of the Year Kelsey Plum has averaged 25 points in the first two games of the series.

A “ROAD” HOME GAME

Game 3 of the Mercury-Aces series will be played at Arizona State because Phoenix’s normal home is being used by Disney on Ice. Arenas book events way in advance and there was no way to know the Mercury would be hosting a playoff game Sunday.

The Mercury will play at home for Game 4 on Wednesday night as part of a separate-ticket doubleheader with the Phoenix Suns. The Suns face the Los Angeles Lakers in an exhibition game. The NBA game was originally scheduled to tip at 7 p.m. local time, but now will begin at 3 p.m. The WNBA game will tip at 7.

“There were a lot of moving parts and a number of groups, including the NBA and WNBA, the Lakers and their local broadcast partner, and ESPN that had to work together to make this happen,” said Jason Rowley, President and CEO for Suns Legacy Partners, LLC. “In the end, all parties should be proud to be a part of this historic doubleheader. Personally, I’m looking forward to a Phoenix sweep!”

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