The Phoenix Mercury overcame the Las Vegas Aces in a nail-biting Game 5 on Friday night and will now meet the Chicago Sky in the WNBA Finals – a repeat of the championship round all the way back in 2014.
Back then, Phoenix swept Chicago in three games, winning both their home contests at the Footprint Center by at least 20 points and edging Game 3 away in Chicago, thanks in part to their star guard Diana Taurasi taking over in the fourth quarter to pour in 14 points and seal both the game and the title.
As it happens, the now 39-year-old Taurasi mimicked the exact same feat with another 14-point barrage to knock out Las Vegas. The more things change the more they seem to stay the same, at least for one of the WNBA’s greatest ever players.
Taurasi and her partner in pick-and-roll crime Brittney Griner are the only remaining players from the championship-winning 2014 roster. Fortunately for the Mercury, they’re arguably their two most important, with Griner protecting the rim with authority and scoring at will in the paint at the other end while Taurasi orchestrates the offense alongside the equally cerebral Skylar Diggins-Smith and rains down threes from the perimeter.
Both will know, however, that this iteration of the Chicago Sky will not be the pushovers they were in 2014, when their key player Elena Delle Donne was hampered by injury and Taurasi was at the very peak of her powers.
Despite entering the playoffs as the sixth-seeded team, the Sky have rampaged through to the Finals, most recently bouncing out the top-seeded the Connecticut Sun in four games. Prior to that, they had beaten both the Minnesota Lynx and Dallas Wings in consecutive single elimination ties. Make no mistake about it, this is a team rounding into form right when it matters most.
As with Phoenix, Chicago boast their own deadly big-guard combination in the form of Candace Parker and Courtney Vandersloot.
Both have been beyond impressive throughout the playoffs, with Vandersloot even breaking the post-season assists record after recording 18 dimes in Game 1 against the Sun. If that wasn’t enough, she also posted the first WNBA playoff triple-double since Sheryl Swoopes in 2005.
Parker, like Taurasi, is a former champion, MVP and Finals MVP who has been here before and performed under the brightest lights the WNBA has to offer.
This time, however, it is for her hometown club, where she grew up watching the Chicago Bulls with her family. This will be the third championship series of her career, and it perhaps wouldn’t be amiss to say that, at 35, it might well be both her last and the most meaningful.
Bring on Game 1, live from 8pm Sunday on Sky Sports Arena’s red button.