The shorthanded Phoenix Mercury unexpectedly kept up with the WNBA's top team — until yet another stroke of bad luck thwarted their efforts

·4 min read
Diamond DeShields holds her head in her hands.
Diamond DeShields holds her head in her hands.AP Photo/John Locher
  • The Phoenix Mercury unexpectedly made the WNBA playoffs despite ending the season without their Big 3.

  • For most of their first-round matchup, the Mercury somehow kept up with the No. 1 Las Vegas Aces.

  • But disaster struck again — in the form of a brutal-looking injury — and thwarted the upset bid.

The Phoenix Mercury have faced more than their fair share of adversity this season.

The three-time WNBA champions have been playing at a deficit — even since before the 2022 season began. Of course, they've been without the future Hall of Famer Brittney Griner, who has been detained in Russia since February. Then, just six weeks into the season, the Mercury's most high-profile off-season acquisition — former league MVP Tina Charles — left the team via contract divorce.

Tina Charles.
Tina Charles.AP Photo/Darryl Webb

Longtime franchise legend Diana Taurasi went down with a season-ending quad injury in early August. And shortly thereafter, as Phoenix's fight for a playoff spot intensified, the Mercury's leading scorer and lone All-Star of the 2022 season — Skylar Diggins-Smith — parted ways from the team due to "personal reasons."

Somewhat miraculously, and with several last-minute roster additions in the lineup, Phoenix punched its ticket to the postseason. And despite virtually every expert and fan writing them off ahead of their first-round matchup, the Mercury managed to give the top-seeded Las Vegas Aces a serious fight at Michelob ULTRA Arena Wednesday night.

That is, until yet another stroke of bad luck thwarted their efforts.

Diamond DeShields sits with a towel over her head during the Mercury's Round 1 playoff game.
DeShields sits with a towel over her head during the game.AP Photo/John Locher

As Phoenix chipped away at the Aces' lead late in the third quarter, starting guard Shey Peddy made a hard cut toward the Vegas ball handler and, without any contact with another player, collapsed to the ground. The 33-year-old, who finally found her way onto a roster just three years ago, immediately clutched her right heel in apparent agony.

Her Mercury teammates surrounded her as she received attention from the medical staff, then forward Reshanda Gray scooped her up in her arms and carried her off to the locker room.

It didn't take long for broadcasters to announce that Peddy wouldn't return to action Wednesday night. And even though the team hasn't yet offered an official diagnosis, the catastrophic-looking injury certainly appeared to be an Achilles tear.

 

"I hope Shey Peddy's okay," Aces guard Kelsey Plum, who missed the 2020 season with a ruptured Achilles, told ESPN's sideline reporter at the start of the fourth quarter. "I saw it — it looked like my Achilles. So my prayers go out to her."

Though players appeared visibly shaken by what they'd seen moments earlier, ever-resilient Phoenix rose from the ashes to mount one final comeback. After heading into the fourth quarter with the same deficit they'd faced when Peddy went down, the Mercury scored several quick baskets to close the gap to just one.

But their resurgence wasn't sustainable. Las Vegas point guard Chelsea Gray ignited for nine points in just a three-minute span, lifting the hometown team out of Phoenix's reach. When the final buzzer sounded, the Aces finished with a double-digit victory that belied the competitive game they'd just played.

Chelsea Gray gets heated after getting fouled at the basket.
Chelsea Gray gets heated after getting fouled under the basket by the Mercury's Sophie Cunningham.AP Photo/John Locher

The Mercury will now look to climb out of a seemingly insurmountable hole, and they'll have to do it with one fewer player than they initially brought to Sin City. Las Vegas has a chance to sweep the series Saturday night, but if Phoenix finds a way to topple the Aces sans Peddy, the two sides will play a decisive Game 3 back in The Valley.

"I can't lie — that absolutely sucked," Phoenix head coach Vanessa Nygaard said after the game, referring to Peddy's injury. "Shey has been such a force for us this year — so amazing in so many ways through all the different things that we've had challenge us this year. Add another one."

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