PHOENIX – In the dying seconds of overtime, as the Phoenix Mercury clung to a three-point lead, Skyler Diggins-Smith glanced at Diana Taurasi, ready to pass the ball to her teammate. But Taurasi shook his head to say, “Keep this. “
It was all Diggins-Smith needed.
She headed for the basket for a layup with 12.8 seconds left in overtime, giving the Mercury their last five-point cushion in a thrilling 91-86 Game 2 win on Wednesday in the final of the WNBA 2021. He tied the series with the Chicago Sky, which will host the next two games of the series. Game 3 is Friday (9 p.m. ET, ESPN2 / ESPN App).
“I had about five or seven [shots] that I should have done, ”said Diggins-Smith, who shot 5-on-18 from the field Wednesday. Just keep going, keep trying to be aggressive, go downhill. ‘ “
Diggins-Smith finished with 13 points, 12 assists and seven rebounds in a must-see game for the Mercury. If they lost, they would head to a 2-0 sold-out Wintrust Arena in Chicago. Instead, they fought to force an extra session and then performed better than Sky in overtime.
Center Brittney Griner starred at the Mercury on Wednesday, with 29 points and nine rebounds. Taurasi struggled at times to find his offense before turning money, as usual, late and finishing with 20 points. Sophie Cunningham, who had suffered a calf injury since her injury in Game 3 of the semifinals, returned to action with nine points, five rebounds and her usual radiant energy. Brianna Turner was the heart of the defense and Shey Peddy scored 10 points off the bench.
But Diggins-Smith was instrumental in the happy return of 13,685 Mercury fans to the Footprint Center. In her second season in Phoenix and her eighth season in the WNBA overall, she wanted to come to the Mercury for games like this.
“Skylar would probably say, ‘I missed too many shots,’ but I thought with his ability to facilitate and give us easy baskets… we needed it,” said Mercury coach Sandy Brondello. “It’s not very often that you watch and Diana has zero [assists], but that’s why they complement each other.
“Dee is a 3-point shooter, a goalscorer, she’s also a great passer, but [Chicago] put a lot of pressure on it. So we put it more on a screen and put the ball in Sky’s hand more. And she made some really good decisions. “
Diggins-Smith has been doing this for a long time, dating back to his childhood in South Bend, Indiana, and then playing for Notre Dame. When the final returns to Chicago on Friday, she won’t be far from her hometown. She brought swagger to the Irish and she brought an extra level of intensity to Mercury.
“I’ve known this game for a long time, and there aren’t a lot of people competing like Skylar does every day,” Taurasi said. “We have to train [together] during two offseason. Every day is the same. Every day is the fifth game for her.
“It kinda ignited my passion for the game. What she did today was Skylar took it to a different level. The way she just impacted the game with every possession, probably one of the best games I’ve ever seen her play. “
Earlier this year, Diggins-Smith made her first Olympic team and won her first gold medal, and now she is competing in her first WNBA final. She turned 31 in August at the Summer Games in Tokyo and said she looked to Taurasi and Griner for advice as they already had Olympic and final experience.
“You have to compartmentalize a bit,” Diggins-Smith said of the joys and challenges of this season and the Olympics. “You stay focused on, ‘What do I have to do today? “
“I know that to help this team I don’t necessarily need to have 20 points. I can do other things: go after 50/50 balls, enter the lane and create opportunities. These are things that can make a big difference in games like this. “
As for the “edge” that she still competes with, Diggins-Smith laughed and said it was out of necessity. And that is exactly what the Mercury needed.
“I’m 5-9 and 145 pounds; if I don’t play with a brothel, I wouldn’t be here, ”she said. “It’s my competitive nature that stands out; I’m just passionate about the game. ”