Sky challenge Mercury in WNBA Finals

By Bob Baum ,AP

PHOENIX, Arizona — After a dominating WNBA season, the Phoenix Mercury would seem to be a lock to win the league championship over the Chicago Sky.

Not so fast.

Phoenix knows the Sky’s 15-19 regular season record is deceiving given how many players were out with injuries and other medical problems.

The Mercury’s Diana Taurasi calls Chicago “probably one of top two or three teams in the league.”

The Sky better be good, because Phoenix enters Sunday’s Game 1 with an 18-game home winning streak. The Mercury haven’t lost in Phoenix since May 23, to San Antonio in the third game of the season.

Phoenix beat Chicago twice in the regular season, but the Sky were missing star forward Elena Delle Donne and point guard Courtney Vandersloot for both of those games.

“We’re all going to have to play our best basketball in order to compete and get some wins out of this,” Delle Donne said.

Delle Donne and Vandersloot each missed 17 regular season games, Delle Donne because of a recurrence of Lyme disease, Vandersloot with a knee injury. The list goes on. Center Sylvia Fowles missed the first 14 games due to hip surgery, and guard Epiphanny Prince was out the first seven games due to physical and mental exhaustion.

“We’ve faced so much adversity,” Delle Donne said. “I think that carries us through.”

Chicago isn’t completely healthy — Delle Donne is nursing a sore back.

“It’s not fun having a sore back, but I’ll be able to work through it, to push through,” she said.

Phoenix rolled to a 29-5 regular-season record, the best mark in league history. The Mercury swept Los Angeles in two games in the first round of the playoffs, then pulled out a 2-1 triumph over Minnesota in what many thought was a matchup of the league’s two best teams.

The Mercury vow no letdown against Chicago.

“It was a tough series (against Minnesota),” Brittney Griner said, “but when you hear that word ¡¦Finals’, you’re refreshed, especially for me. This is my first one.”

Griner is surrounded by experience, including Taurasi and Penny Taylor, teammates on the Mercury’s two WNBA championship teams, in 2007 and 2009.

Taurasi is coming off a 31-point, 7-assist performance in Phoenix’s 96-78 victory over Minnesota in the deciding Game 3 of the Western Conference finals. She heaved one in from just beyond halfcourt at the third-quarter buzzer, part of an 18-0 run.

“I’ve played with her so long now that I know she can do that,” Taylor said. “We know in big moments she can do it, and so we look to her to do that and she really came through. She’s done it throughout the year so we weren’t surprised.”

Both Phoenix coach Sandy Brondello and Chicago coach Pokey Chatman called Taurasi “the best player in the world.”

Throughout the season, Taurasi was mostly a distributor, not a big scorer, on a team loaded with talent.

“I can honestly say we’ve been a little family this summer,” Taurasi said. “We’ve stuck together, we enjoy being around each other.”

Chicago fought its way through as the East’s No. 4 seed to reach the WNBA Finals for the first time.

Trailing by 17 early in the fourth quarter, the Sky rallied to beat top-seeded Atlanta 81-80 on the road in the deciding Game 3 of the first round, the biggest fourth-quarter comeback in WNBA playoff history.

“It just taught us that no matter how far behind we were,” Delle Donne said, “we can always come back.”

Chicago beat Indiana 86-84 in double overtime in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals and then closed out the series with a win in Indiana. Chicago is 3-1 on the road in the playoffs.