Diana Taurasi helps launch Phoenix Mercury into 2014 WNBA Finals

Veteran guard Diana Taurasi helped propel the Phoenix Mercury (29-5) to the 2014 WNBA Finals with a decisive 96-78 win over the Minnesota Lynx  (25-9) at US Airways Center Tuesday night. She scored 31 points, pulled down five rebounds and dished out seven assists in a do-or-die game three of the Western Conference finals in front of 9,749 fans.

The Mercury led for most of the game and entered the half with a 50-42 lead. Taurasi capped the end of the first half by making a three-point shot at the buzzer from just beyond the halfcourt line.

“Well, you see the crowd got into it,” said Mercury head coach Sandy Brondello about the fan reaction to that shot, “and that certainly helps in that situation. But, you know, when anyone makes a big shot like that, you just think, ‘Ok, it’s our night.’ I just thought, the look in their eyes, we just knew that it was like, ‘Ok, they’re good.’”

However, Minnesota played as if they were ready to take over the game in the third quarter. The game was tied at 67 with 1:25 left in the period before Taurasi made a jumper and a three-point shot to give the Mercury a five-point edge, 72-67, going into the last stanza.

The fourth quarter was nearly all Taurasi as she led Phoenix on a 18-0 run to start the 4th quarter, scoring 13 of those points. Brittney Griner scored the remaining five.

Griner finished the game with 22 points, six rebounds and four assists. DeWanna Bonner added 14 points and seven rebounds. Candice Dupree also had 14 points plus four rebounds. The remaining Phoenix starter, forward Penny Taylor, scored with 10 points.

Brondello was critical of her team’s first half performance but lauded the second half effort.

“We gotta play every possession like it’s our last possession, as hard as we can go, and really lock down.’ We had a few break downs, especially in that first half there. But in the second half, we just didn’t give up any offensive boards, we played better one-on-one and team defense.”

Lynx head coach Cheryl Reeve was ejected during the second half but before she left the floor, had some complimentary parting words for Diana Taurasi.

“I told her that she played great,” said Reeve, “and congrats and to win it for the West.”

Reeve also praised first-year Phoenix coach Brondello.

“Sandy got coach of the year for a reason,” said Reeve. “I just told her that she has done an unbelievable job. When you study what they do, they’re very persistent with getting what they want to get, their players are committed to doing what Sandy wants them to do.”

Seimone Augustus led the Lynx with 21 points and seven rebounds. Lindsay Whalen contributed 20 points, eight rebounds and six assists. Maya Moore was also in double figures with 16 points plus five assists.

Game 1 of the WNBA Finals will take place on Sunday in Phoenix. The Mercury will contend for their third WNBA Championship in franchise history and first since 2009. They advance to the WNBA Finals for the fourth time in franchise history and will play either the Indiana Fever or Chicago Sky, whose series will be decided tomorrow night in Indianapolis.

The Mercury clinched homecourt advantage throughout the WNBA Playoffs thanks to a WNBA-record 29 regular season wins. They currently hold an 18-game home winning streak.

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