Mercury finish off the Sun late to win 96-86

Connecticut Sun guard Rachel Banham, left, comforts teammate Shekinna Stricklen (40) as the players walk off the court following their loss to the Phoenix Mercury in WNBA second-round playoff action Thursday at Mohegan Sun Arena. The Mercury finished the game on a 15-2 run to win 96-86, eliminating the Sun for the second straight season. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
Connecticut Sun guard Rachel Banham, left, comforts teammate Shekinna Stricklen (40) as the players walk off the court following their loss to the Phoenix Mercury in WNBA second-round playoff action Thursday at Mohegan Sun Arena. The Mercury finished the game on a 15-2 run to win 96-86, eliminating the Sun for the second straight season. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)

Mohegan — The Connecticut Sun were 3 minutes, 36 seconds from Seattle on Thursday night.

Courtney Williams had them rocking at Mohegan Sun Arena. She had just scored her 11th straight point to give Connecticut a three-point lead over the Phoenix Mercury with 3:36 left in a WNBA second-round playoff game.

It wasn’t enough.

Nothing the Sun did was enough to put the Mercury away.

Phoenix, an old hand in big playoff moments, scored the game's last 10 points in the final minutes to put Connecticut away 96-86 before 7,858.

It is the second year in a row that the Mercury (22-14) beat the Sun in a second-round game at Mohegan Sun Arena. The Mercury advanced to play the top-seeded Seattle Storm in the best-of-five semifinals.

“(They had 34 points) in the paint (in the second half),” Sun coach Curt Miller said. “A 56-point (second) half for them and we just couldn’t disrupt them. And they played through their big three like they have been.”

Phoenix’s big three, DeWanna Bonner, Brittney Griner and Diana Taurasi, combined for 77 points, 25 rebounds and 10 assists.

“They did what they needed to do in that (15-2) run to finish,” Miller said. “We just didn’t make the plays that they made down the stretch. You have to give them credit for that.”

Phoenix pulled away with less than four minutes in last season’s second-round game. Leilani Mitchell made a go-ahead 3-pointer to give the Mercury a 78-76 lead with 3:35 left in the game.

Williams scored 11 straight points to give Connecticut an 84-81 lead with 3:55 left Thursday night.

Stephanie Talbot tied it with a 3-pointer, once again at the 3:35 mark, to start a 15-2 run.

“Just over the four minute mark (left in the game), we doubled the ball out of their hands and who ends up with it, rotates around, but Stephanie Talbot,” Miller said. “And she airballs a 3.”

“Thirty seconds later, Stephanie Talbot ends up with the ball again at 25 feet and makes it. That’s a player making a play.”

It was Talbot's second and last field goal of the game. She scored seven.

“We got the ball out of Griner’s hands that time,” Miller said, “and all of the sudden, a player that had just airballed a shot turned around and made a big shot to tie it up.”

Bonner had 23 points and 18 rebounds for the Mercury and Taurasi made five 3-pointers for 27 points with five assists. Griner added 27 points and five rebounds.

Taurasi has played on all three of the Mercury's championship teams (2007, 2009 and 2014). Bonner was part of the 2009 and 2014 teams and Griner took part in the last title win.

Briann January, the Mercury's starting point guard, also started in two WNBA Finals for the Indiana Fever, helping them to their first and only title in 2012.

Williams had 27 points and eight rebounds for the Sun (21-14) and Jasmine Thomas had 14 points and five rebounds.

Alyssa Thomas scored 17 for Connecticut and Jonquel Jones, who was named the Sixth Woman of the Year by the WNBA earlier in the day, had 13 points, seven rebounds and seven assists.

The Sun still had a chance to win even after Talbot’s 3-pointer. Alyssa Thomas’ layup tied the game at 86 with 2:32 remaining.

Bonner came back with a go-ahead layup 22 seconds later.

Griner blocked Williams’ layup attempt on one end and made two free throws on the other end. Griner then stole a Shekinna Stricklen pass to set up another Bonner layup.

Taurasi and Bonner ended the game with two free throws each.

“We just didn’t have that urgency to attack,” the Sun's Chiney Ogwumike said, “or to just say, ‘hey, worse comes to worst, we’re going to do this.’ They’ve been there and done that, that core group of players.

“We have to learn what we want when it comes down to the wire, where are we going (with the ball).”

• Jones received 20 votes from a national panel of 38 sportswriters and broadcasters to earn WNBA Sixth Woman of the Year honors.

Jones, a 6-foot-6 post, was the 2017 WNBA Most Improved Player last season and becomes the first player to win both the Sixth Woman and Most Improved awards. She was also an All-WNBA second team pick last year in just her second season.

Jones averaged 11.8 points, 5.5 rebounds and 1.24 blocks this season. She also had the league's second-best 3-point shooting percentage (46.7).

“I’m extremely excited for JJ being recognized for her outstanding year in the role that she had for us this season,” Sun coach Curt Miller said. “She was a huge spark coming off the bench and continues to show that she has a chance to be one of the elite players in this league for a long time.”

Players had to have come off the bench in more games than they started to be eligible for the award. Jones came off the bench in 18 of her 34 games.

Chicago Sky forward Cheyenne Parker finished second (eight votes) and Atlanta Dream guard Brittney Sykes was third (three votes).

Jones won the same award earlier this week from the Associated Press.

n.griffen@theday.com

Connecticut Sun guard Jasmine Thomas, left, runs into the defense of Phoenix Mercury center Brittney Griner in the first half of Thursday's WNBA second-round playoff game at Mohegan Sun Arena. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
Connecticut Sun guard Jasmine Thomas, left, runs into the defense of Phoenix Mercury center Brittney Griner in the first half of Thursday's WNBA second-round playoff game at Mohegan Sun Arena. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
Phoenix Mercury guard Briann January, right, dives to keep the ball in play as she tangles with Connecticut Sun guard Layshia Clarendon in the first half of Thursday's WNBA second-round playoff game at Mohegan Sun Arena. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
Phoenix Mercury guard Briann January, right, dives to keep the ball in play as she tangles with Connecticut Sun guard Layshia Clarendon in the first half of Thursday's WNBA second-round playoff game at Mohegan Sun Arena. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
Phoenix Mercury center Brittney Griner, right, shoots over Connecticut Sun defender Chiney Ogwumike in the second half of Thursday's WNBA playoff game. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
Phoenix Mercury center Brittney Griner, right, shoots over Connecticut Sun defender Chiney Ogwumike in the second half of Thursday's WNBA playoff game. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
Phoenix Mercury guard Diana Taurasi goes sprawling after being fouled by Connecticut Sun center Jonquel Jones (35) as Shekinna Stricklen, right, helps on defense in the second half Thursday. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
Phoenix Mercury guard Diana Taurasi goes sprawling after being fouled by Connecticut Sun center Jonquel Jones (35) as Shekinna Stricklen, right, helps on defense in the second half Thursday. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
Phoenix Mercury guard Diana Taurasi, left, shoots over Connecticut Sun defenders Jasmine Thomas (obscured) and Shekinna Stricklen (40) in the second half Thursday at Mohegan Sun Arena. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
Phoenix Mercury guard Diana Taurasi, left, shoots over Connecticut Sun defenders Jasmine Thomas (obscured) and Shekinna Stricklen (40) in the second half Thursday at Mohegan Sun Arena. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)

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