Bill Laimbeer predicted his Las Vegas Aces, down 2-1, would play their best in Game 4 of a WNBA semifinal series against the Phoenix Mercury.
The Aces made Laimbeer look like Nostradamus.
They hammered the Mercury 24-2 in the first seven minutes of the third quarter Wednesday at the Footprint Center, winning 93-76 to force a deciding Game 5 on Friday in Las Vegas.
Whoever prevails between the No. 2-seeded Aces and No. 5 Mercury will face the No. 6 Chicago Sky in the WNBA Finals. The Sky won 79-69 to close out a 3-1 series win over the No. 1 Connecticut Sky.
Mercury starting wing Kia Nurse suffered a knee injury in the opening minute and Phoenix also was without guard Sophie Cunningham (calf strain).
More than those absences, though, the Mercury failed to match the Aces’ urgency, which they also displayed in 2020, climbing out of a 2-1 semifinal hole to win 3-2 over Connecticut.
Like in Game 1, a 96-90 Las Vegas win, the Aces ignited from the 3-point, pushing their offensive output back up from 60 in Game 3 to the level they maintained to lead the league in regular season scoring.
Riquna Williams hit three treys in the massive run in the third quarter. Chelsea Gray led the Aces with 22 points and Kelsey Plum scored 20 off the bench for a combined 59 for the Aces’ guard trio.
They were bolstered by forward A’ja Wilson, who played closer to her 2020 WNBA Most Valuable Player form for a double-double.
The Mercury trailed by three (49-46) at halftime only to find themselves down 78-57 going into the fourth after being outscored 29-11 in the third.
Four Mercury players scored in double figures: Skylar Diggin-Smith and Diana Taurasi 14, Brittney Griner and Shey Peddy 13.
The Mercury played Game 5 in the 2018 WNBA semifinals on the road at Seattle, losing 94-84. They are trying to reach the Finals for the first time since 2014 when they swept Chicago in three games for their third WNBA title.
Kia Nurse injured in opening minute
Nurse was injured after being blocked by Wilson on a break layup less than a minute into the game. She was helped off the court with a right knee injury and did not return.
Shey Peddy replaced Nurse, scoring 11 points in the first quarter on 3-3 shooting with a pair of 3-pointers.
The Mercury jumped to an early lead for the fourth consecutive game, but the Aces responded with a 9-0 run for 11-11.
Las Vegas, down 29-24 after the first, went ahead for the first time in three games with 6:40 left in the second on a Gray 3-pointer.
The Mercury pulled even late in the second on a Taurasi 3-pointer before the Aces scored the final three points of the half to lead 49-46.
Nurse: Doubleheader with Suns ‘makes a difference’
For Nurse, the Mercury playing in the first WNBA/NBA doubleheader is a significant incremental step forward for professional women’s basketball.
“It’s going to take a lot of little things to change in order for us to see a huge sizeable change,” she said before Game 4. “We all understand when it comes to equity in sport, it’s not going to be an overnight thing that we see tomorrow and everything is the same and equal and what we expected. Little gestures along the way and genuine meaningful ones, I think they make a difference. That’s what I’ve seen here since I’ve come to the Phoenix Mercury in terms of the way the Suns and Mercury interact with one another as an organization and players. It does rank up there pretty high.”
The Mercury played their first two postseason games at GCU Arena and ASU’s Desert Financial Arena because of a scheduling conflicts for a concert and Disney On Ice at Footprint Center. On Wednesday, the Suns and Los Angeles Lakers agreed to move their preseason game to a 3 p.m. tipoff so the Mercury could play their nationally televised Game 4 at 7 p.m.
“Hopefully there’s a lot of days where we’re no longer celebrating that something like this is happening, it’s just normal,” Nurse said. “I have been a part of New York when we were with the Knicks and in Westchester Center. This is completely different from what I experienced there. Just being there is a priority for a (WNBA) playoff game vs. a (NBA) preseason game, that doesn’t happen very often so that’s huge.
“It’s almost like when the NBA isn’t in season, the WNBA plays but as it starts to wind down the NBA starts to come back up. So all of those people who are missing their basketball fix when the NBA is not on, all of a sudden they can go back to watching all of their NBA teams and don’t have to pay attention to what’s going on with us. This is different now. You have to pay attention to both and enjoy both. That’s what is really exciting about it. People who love the sport are watching both sides and genuinely enjoying the skill and competition we have.”
Aari McDonald makes All-Rookie team
Former Arizona guard Aari McDonald is on the WNBA All-Rookie team for her play with the Atlanta Dream. She also picked up one vote for Rookie of the Year, an award that went to New York’s Michaela Onyenwere (47 of 49 votes).
Others on the All-Rookie team are New York’s DiDi Richards, Dallas’ Charli Collier and Chicago’s Dana Evans.
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This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: WNBA playoffs: Las Vegas Aces force Game 5 vs. Phoenix Mercury