PHOENIX — No game in the WNBA Finals would come easier than Game 1 for the Sky.
At least that was the message the Phoenix Mercury had for them ahead of Game 2, and it came from forward Sophie Cunningham. She was right.
The Mercury evened the best-of-five series with a 91-86 victory in overtime Wednesday.
Dominant fourth-quarter performances by Diana Taurasi and Brittney Griner led to five lead changes. With 10 seconds left in regulation, Courtney Vandersloot made a layup to tie the score at 79.
The Mercury turned the ball over on the inbounds play after a timeout, and the game went to overtime.
“Tonight, we were able to dig deep,” Mercury coach Sandy Brondello said. “There was fatigue on both teams, but it’s just how bad you want it.”
Coming into the game, Brondello’s team was rested and ready and needed to punch back. It did.
Taurasi was fouled on a three-pointer early in overtime. She completed the four-point play and gave the Mercury a four-point lead. Skylar Diggins-Smith made a layup the next play down the floor to increase the lead to six. The Sky responded, taking an 86-85 lead after a layup by Azurá Stevens with less than three minutes left in overtime.
But it wasn’t enough against Taurasi and Griner, who finished with 29 points and nine rebounds.
Taurasi had 20 points, eight in overtime, and four rebounds.
“Regardless of what [Taurasi] has done in the first half [of a game], in the fourth quarter, she is a player that loves those moments,” Brondello said. “There’s no fear, even when she’s so tired. Making that three late in the game gave us some separation.”
The Mercury needed big-time performances and a fast start from their big three — Griner, Taurasi and Diggins-Smith. Diggins-Smith had a double-double with 13 points and 12 assists. Brondello got the performances, but the Mercury got off to a slow start.
Phoenix led three times by no more than four points before the fourth quarter. The Sky’s six turnovers in the fourth quarter led to momentum-shifting plays by the Mercury. They scored 25 points off 16 Sky turnovers.
“There were key moments in the game where we turned it over, could have scored two and instead gave up a three,” Candace Parker said.
Kahleah Copper and Vandersloot finished with their third double-doubles of the playoffs. Copper had 15 points and 10 rebounds, and Vandersloot finished with 20 points and 14 assists. Allie Quigley scored 19 points, and Parker added 13.
The Sky outscored the Mercury 50-40 in the paint but went to the free-throw line only four times. The Mercury went to the line 11 times.
“Brittney Griner shot more free throws than our team,” Sky coach/GM James Wade said. “That says a lot.”
After their preseason game, members of the Trail Blazers and Suns stuck around to watch Game 2. Chris Paul, Devin Booker and Damian Lillard were just a few of the players in attendance.
WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert announced ahead of Sunday’s game that the Mercury and Sky would take chartered flights back to Chicago for Game 3. Those flights are scheduled for Thursday morning. Wade said he wanted his team to get a full night of sleep instead of flying out immediately after Wednesday’s game.
Friday’s Game 3 at Wintrust Arena, which has a max capacity of 10,000, is already sold out.