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A team with the WNBA’s all-time leading scorer and a future Hall of Famer in Diana Taurasi is moving on in the playoffs. But a player who became a rookie last year as a 30-year-old hit the winning shot in Phoenix’s 85-84 first-round victory. Shey Peddy, who finally got her chance to play in the WNBA in 2019 thanks to Washington, hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer Tuesday for Phoenix to beat the Mystics, of all teams.
You couldn’t have picked a less likely scenario, but that’s the beauty of playoff basketball — you see things you never expect. Washington waived Peddy on Aug. 17 as part of some roster maneuvers, but Mystics coach Mike Thibault said the plan was to bring her back after she cleared waivers. Instead, she signed with Phoenix on Aug. 19. Peddy admits she still thinks of the Mystics players as her sisters, but Tuesday she ended the defending WNBA champs’ season.
“It’s the best feeling I’ve felt, probably ever,” Peddy said of making the game-winner. “That was a dream-come-true shot right there. It’s like a fairy tale moment.”
In the second game of the WNBA’s first-round doubleheader — Connecticut beat Chicago 94-81 in Tuesday’s opener — the Mercury had to climb out of a big hole to set up the big finish. But it came down to Peddy, who played at Temple and had been cut three times in WNBA training camps before getting a chance to play with Washington last year. She then finished last season on the Mystics’ coaching staff, but this year got the opportunity to play again.
Shey Peddy, surrounded by her Phoenix Mercury teammates after Tuesday’s buzzer-beating 3-pointer, entered the game shooting 10.5% from 3-point range. Julio Aguilar/Getty Images
“She was in the bubble, and it made sense to bring her in as another body,” Mercury coach Sandy Brondello said of adding Peddy to the roster. “That’s a really great story.”
Here’s a look at what else happened in Tuesday’s first-round games.
Mercury rise to the occasion
Earlier this summer, when Phoenix was struggling to play as well as most expected, Taurasi was asked if the team would find a way to get things together by the end of the regular season.
Taurasi grinned and said yes, because that’s what the Mercury do. She has been with the franchise since being picked No. 1 in 2004, and has won three championships with Phoenix. Taurasi was limited to six games last year due to injuries, but at age 38 has come back for a big season in the bubble.
And when Phoenix needed a big run Tuesday, she and the Mercury made it happen. Phoenix trailed 73-61 with 9:05 left in the game. Then the Mercury went on a 17-0 run to take a 78-73 lead with 4:23 left. Skylar Diggins-Smith started the run, and Taurasi finished it. The Mercury then gave up the lead again with some late turnovers and had to rely on Peddy’s 3-pointer for the win. But without that run, there would not have been any last-second drama.
“When you can get stops and rebound the basketball and attack when they’re not set up, it gives you a really good chance of scoring,” Taurasi said of how the Mercury climbed back into the game. “We got a little bit from everyone. There’s something about this team that doesn’t want to go home.”
Diggins-Smith, who had 10 points in the pivotal run, including a pair of 3-pointers, finished with 24 points,. Taurasi added 23, and they combined for 11 assists.
It was still quite a year for Washington to make the playoffs without 2019 MVP Elena Delle Donne and other key players from their title team, including Natasha Cloud and LaToya Sanders, who also didn’t play this season.
“We made some bad decisions on offense trying to go into the teeth of the defense with Brianna Turner’s shot blocking,” Thibault said. “Phoenix made a great comeback, they outplayed us in the fourth quarter. That’s what happens. One of the tougher losses I’ve had since I’ve been in Washington because I feel so bad for these players for how hard they’ve worked.”
Sun’s Thomas a one-woman wrecking crew
Alyssa Thomas could sense it: Once Connecticut took over in its first-round playoff game against Chicago, the Sun weren’t going to be stopped. Much of that had to do with Thomas, who finished with 26 points, 13 rebounds and 8 assists in the No. 7 seed Sun’s victory over No. 6 seed Chicago.
The teams split their two regular-season meetings, and this one was close through the first half, tied at 41 at the break. But then the Sun grabbed the momentum in the third quarter, outscoring Chicago 27-11. This has been the best season statistically of Thomas’ seven years in the WNBA. As good as she was in the regular season — averaging 15.5 points, 9.0 rebounds and 4.8 assists — she was at another level Tuesday.
Thomas acknowledged she is fueled by coming so close to a title last year; the Sun lost the WNBA Finals to Washington in five games. But her motor never really turns off, as evidenced by her work on the offensive boards. She had a postseason single-game record 10 on Tuesday.
“I pride myself on doing everything,” Thomas said. “And I think it’s my job to get the team going.”
Connecticut claims the paint
Thomas was only one part of what the Sky had to worry about. As a team, Connecticut out-rebounded Chicago 40-21. DeWanna Bonner, like Thomas, had a double-double with 23 point and 12 rebounds, while Brionna Jones had 12 points and eight boards.
Last year, Bonner was still with Phoenix, where she spent the first 10 seasons of her career, and Jones was a reserve who played just 8.4 minutes per game, compared to 26.1 this year. Jonquel Jones, the Sun’s 6-foot-6 post player, opted out of this season, but Thomas at power forward, Brionna Jones at center and Bonner at small forward have been a terrific staring trio for the Sun. The Sun held Chicago center Cheyenne Parker and power forward Ruthy Hebard to a combined 12 points on 3-of-8 shooting from the field.
DeWanna Bonner, in her first season with Connecticut, had 23 points and 12 rebounds Tuesday. Stephen Gosling/NBAE via Getty Images
Chicago lost forward/center Azurá Stevens to a knee injury during the season, and guard Diamond DeShields, who was slowed by injury this season, left the bubble for personal reasons. But as well as Connecticut played, even Stevens and DeShields might not have changed the result.
Connecticut lost its first five games this season, but that’s a distant memory.
“This team is pretty special,” Bonner said. “Because I’m pretty sure nobody had us down to win a playoff game. It just shows the character of our team, how much we want to be here.”
Sun’s toughness made impact in backcourt, too
Guard Briann January never saw a screen she wouldn’t fight through. It was that mentality that Connecticut coach Curt Miller thought would be a good addition to the Sun this season. In February, Miller obtained January in a three-team deal that sent Courtney Williams to the Atlanta.
The Sun haven’t won a WNBA title, but January (Indiana, 2012), Bonner (2009, ’14), Essence Carson (Los Angeles, 2016) and Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis (Seattle, 2018) are players who’ve won championships with other WNBA teams and bring that experience to Connecticut.
January, in her 12th WNBA season, contracted COVID-19 this summer before joining the Sun and getting her first game action on Aug. 12. She has meshed well with fellow veteran guard Jasmine Thomas.
“She thinks like a coach,” Miller said of January, who was an assistant at her alma mater, Arizona State, for two years before deciding after the 2019 season it was too much to balance with playing. “She’s constantly a positive voice out there with those guys. She’s so tough. She may not score like she once did, but she fights whoever she’s guarding. … It’s a comfort zone to have a player that you know is going to compete defensively every single possession for you.”
January and Thomas didn’t shoot well Tuesday, going 6-of-21, but they finished with a combined 15 points and eight assists, and were part of a defensive effort that made the Sky work for everything.
“They feed off each other so well,” Miller said.