Skylar Diggins-Smith’s clutch play keeping Mercury focused on WNBA title

Skylar Diggins-Smith of the Phoenix Mercury shoots a free throw against the Minnesota Lynx on May 14, 2021, in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Jordan Johnson/NBAE via Getty Images)

Skylar Diggins-Smith is not afraid of the moment. Far from it.

The 30-year-old Phoenix Mercury guard has averaged 19.4 points and 5.3 assists per game through eight games this season, and she’s been even better in crunch time. She’s currently second in the WNBA in fourth-quarter scoring, averaging 6.0 points per game in the final frame.

“I want the ball in my hands — it’s no secret,” Diggins-Smith said about her fourth-quarter heroics. “We have been in close games with Minnesota, Connecticut, Vegas — the list goes on and on. I know I am going to have the ball in my hands making decisions with the basketball. I am very confident in my play-making in the fourth quarter.”

And so far this season, the Mercury have needed every bit of that late-game prowess. Phoenix is fourth in the league standings with a 5-3 record. And during their current three-game win streak, they’ve won each by four points or fewer (including one over the Chicago Sky on June 1 via a wild Kia Nurse buzzer-beater):

The eight-year veteran Diggins-Smith followed up that miracle finish by notching a season-high 28 points in a June 3 rematch with the Sky that went to overtime. And all of this is in service of one goal — to bring her franchise its first title since 2014.

“What you are seeing is me trying to bust my ass to get the Phoenix Mercury in a position to win a championship.”

That job was made tougher on May 16, when franchise player Diana Taurasi fractured her sternum versus the Connecticut Sun. In the four games Taurasi played earlier this season, she was averaging 15.8 points, 3.5 rebounds and 3.8 assists per game.

“Obviously we are missing a big piece in Diana,” said Diggins-Smith, “and what she brings to the table.”

Diggins-Smith, who is in just her second season with Phoenix, has used the absence of Taurasi to help build chemistry with six-time WNBA all-star Brittney Griner.

“We really only played like eight games together last year. So this is obviously our time where we get to work with each other and have more conversations. We are both a big part of the game plan, so we are just communicating and getting to know each other.”

And while Diggins-Smith is focused on putting her team in a position to win the WNBA Championship, she is finding inspiration from a team that shares her arena: the NBA’s Phoenix Suns.

“It’s been amazing to watch,” Diggins-Smith said of the Suns, who are currently up 1–0 in the second round versus the Denver Nuggets. “I’ve watched a lot of Chris Paul film this year, and it’s really helped me on the court, too. Just watching how he breaks down his high pick and roll, and just how he has taken over as a veteran of his team in late-game situations. Everybody is prepared for the moment, nobody is scared or afraid.”

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