For the first time during the 2021 WNBA Playoffs, the Phoenix Mercury are playing a home game. A real home game.
On Wednesday night (10pm ET, ESPN), the Mercury will tip off against the Las Vegas Aces in their home arena, the Footprint Center. With a win, the Mercury will clinch a spot in the WNBA Finals.
As the No. 5 seed in this season’s WNBA Playoffs, the Phoenix Mercury were technically the home team when they matched up against the eighth-ranked New York Liberty for the opening round last month. But due to a Maluma concert, the Mercury hosted the Liberty at Grand Canyon University Arena on a court that lacked any official branding. The Mercury won the single-elimination game 83-82.
Earlier this week, it was “Disney on Ice” that resulted in the Mercury taking their home game on the road. That semifinal against the Las Vegas Aces – which the Mercury won 87-60 – was played at Desert Financial Arena in Tempe.
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Tonight’s semifinal initially looked like it could turn into another home-away-from-home game for the Mercury. The Phoenix Suns were scheduled to have preseason NBA game against the Los Angeles Lakers at the Footprint Center at 10pm – the same time the Mercury were set to tip off against the Aces.
But the Suns and Lakers agreed to move up their preseason game to allow the WNBA playoff game to take center stage.
“It’s incredible that both teams were willing to push their game forward so that we could play on our home court,” Mercury guard Kia Nurse said on Wednesday afternoon. “Having a home court advantage – with a great crowd – is definitely that sixth man out there.”
While an NBA preseason game being moved to accommodate a WNBA playoff game shouldn’t be newsworthy, here we are. There is a history of WNBA playoff games being booted due to scheduling conflicts – usually the result of concerts or preseason NBA or NHL games.
In an in-depth dive on this topic for The Next, Alex Simon explained that four of the Mercury’s last seven “home” playoff games weren’t played at the team’s real home venue.
“That means that for Diana Taurasi and [Brittney] Griner, the two longest-tenured Mercury players, they will have played in more playoff home games in the Phoenix area away from their normal home arena than actually in the arena,” Simon wrote.
On Tuesday, Taurasi said the joint Suns-Lakers decision is “all about caring.”
“You can talk about money and business, but when someone cares about something, they’re willing to do something to turn the tide,” Taurasi explained. “For the Lakers to agree to it, that means they care.”
Nurse agrees. “When it comes to equity and sport, it’s not going to be an overnight thing,” she said. “It’s going to take a lot of little things to change in order to see a huge gradual change.”
Follow Alex Azzi on Twitter @AlexAzziNBC