CHICAGO (AP) — The Phoenix Mercury were without star center Brittney Griner. However, they still had Diana Taurasi.
Taurasi scored 14 of her 24 points in the fourth quarter and the Mercury beat the Chicago Sky 87-82 Friday night to complete a three-game sweep of the WNBA Finals for their third championship.
“We have the best player in the world, Diana Taurasi,” Phoenix coach Sandy Brondello said. “When you put the ball in her hands at crunch time, she makes it happen.”
Taurasi made big plays as the Sky were threatening to force a Game 4.
She hit a tiebreaking 16-foot jumper and was fouled with 14.3 seconds left and made the ensuing free throw to put Phoenix up 85-82.
Taurasi shot 4 for 9 on 3s and became the WNBA’s all-time leading scorer in the finals.
She had some help.
After she reached the podium, she slid her MVP trophy over toward her teammate Candice Dupree, a former Sky player who also scored 24 points on 11-for-16 shooting.
“Candice has probably been overlooked her whole career on whatever team she has played on,” Taurasi said. “I’ve never played with someone that I’m so confident going into a game with. You always know she’s going to be able to play.
“She led us in assists. She never passes, so you knew we were going to win today,” Taurasi said with a smile.
DeWanna Bonner had 12 points and Penny Taylor added 11 for the Mercury, who also won titles in 2007 and 2009. Phoenix, which had a WNBA-record 29 wins during the regular season, shot 49.3 percent overall from the field and never led by more than five.
Elena Delle Donne, who battled a back injury during the series, scored 23 points, Sylvia Fowles had 20 points and Allie Quigley had 19 for the Sky.
Dupree and the rest of the Mercury had to step up in the absence of Griner, who sat out following surgery to correct a retinal issue after she was hit in the right eye in Game 2. She averaged 15.5 points, 6.5 rebounds and 6.0 blocks in the first two games.
Ewelina Kobryn had eight points, eight rebounds and three blocked shots in Griner’s place.
“Sandy told us before the game started we all had to pick up the slack, play harder,” Dupree said.
Courtney Vandersloot’s jumper with 3:32 cut Phoenix’s lead to 77-74.
Taurasi completed a three-point play a minute later for a four-point lead before Delle Donne cut it to two again. Quigley’s jumper tied it with 33.1 seconds left before Taurasi took control.
After Taurasi’s three-point play put Phoenix ahead, Delle Donne missed a 3-pointer with 10.9 seconds left, and the Sky fouled Taylor, who made both free throws with 9.3 seconds left for the final score.
Phoenix’s sweep in the finals was the fourth in the last five years, and fifth since the championship round went to a best-of-five format in 2005.
Taurasi said she thought the Mercury would have the opportunity to win several titles after their last championship in 2009. They were able to enjoy the sweep after the long wait.
“We do finally get here and knowing we have to take full advantage of it, we have to enjoy it,” she said. “Today, with two minutes left, we enjoyed that. That pressure of not knowing we were going to win, we enjoyed that.”
The Mercury had averaged 57 percent shooting and 90 points in winning the opener 83-62 and Game 2 97-68 by a finals-record margin in Phoenix.
Chicago was the first team with a losing record during the regular season to reach the finals.
“The first two games, we weren’t where we wanted to be,” Fowles said. “We tried to take into consideration we were home in front of our crowd and go out and play tough.”
The game was played at the UIC Pavilion because Allstate Arena was unavailable due to a Garth Brooks tour.
“It stings right now. It’s sad we didn’t have the showing we wanted,” Sky coach Pokey Chatman said. “I want to credit a team that when they had a man down their All-Star players stepped up.
“There were some crucial times in there we had opportunities to separate. D would hit a big shot, and that’s what big-time players do.”