Candice Dupree moves Mercury forward

SEATTLE -- When Candice Dupree went to Phoenix as part of a major WNBA trade in late March 2010, Mercury coaches and players knew what kind of talent and statistical production she was bringing.

Mercury fans might not have been as aware of that. What they were aware of was this: Dupree was on her way into town from Chicago as part of a three-team deal, and Cappie Pondexter was on her way out.

Pondexter -- who helped Phoenix win two WNBA titles, including the 2009 crown just a few months earlier -- was headed to New York, at her request.

If Dupree hadn't done enough already to help those fans forget about Pondexter by averaging 15.1 points and 7.8 rebounds through her two seasons with the Mercury -- this on a team that revolves in large part around Diana Taurasi and Penny Taylor -- she now has done even more.

Dupree seized the moment Monday, propelling Phoenix to a decisive Game 3 road win over the Seattle Storm in the Western Conference semifinals.

The Mercury had wiped out an 18-point, first-half deficit and was in a 75-75 tie with the ball and 10.5 seconds left. Taurasi wasn't an option because she had fouled out with 6:38 to go. Phoenix coach Corey Gaines drew up a play for Taylor, but her layup missed. Dupree got her hands on the ball and put in an 8-footer from the left of the lane with 1.9 seconds showing for the last of her 20 points.

So instead of heading into overtime with defending champion Seattle, the Mercury, with their 77-75 victory, were heading to the conference finals. Up next is the winner of Tuesday night's Game 3 between Minnesota and San Antonio. Regardless of the outcome, that best-of-three series begins Thursday, at Minnesota if the Lynx win, or at Phoenix should the Silver Stars prevail.

"I thought for sure her layup was going to go in. But it bounced out and everyone was tipping the ball around," the 6-foot-2 Dupree said. "It happened to land in my hands -- that's the way it goes. I put it back up as quickly as I could."

A conference finals matchup against the league-leading Lynx, who took three of five games from Phoenix this year (including a 96-90 decision in the regular-season finale on Sept. 11 at Phoenix), would suit Dupree just fine.

"I enjoy playing against Minnesota. They play a fast-paced game like we do. It makes it fun to get up and down the floor a little bit," Dupree said. "We match up well against them."

Dupree sees the differences between the Lynx and Silver Stars.

"San Antonio is a great team, but they're a little more half court," Dupree said of the Silver Stars, who also won three of five from the Mercury. "We like to get out and run. Either way, we're ready to take on whoever wins."

While she has given Phoenix a boost on offense and some solid work on the boards, the Mercury have given Dupree her first tastes of the postseason. She never got there in four years with Chicago after being drafted by the Sky out of Temple in 2006.

Last September, Dupree helped Phoenix reach the West finals against Seattle, but the Storm knocked out the Mercury in two straight on the way to Seattle's second title.

Now, with another year of experience in Gaines' run-and-shoot style (the Mercury averaged a league-high 89 points coming into the playoffs), Dupree has helped Phoenix return to the conference finals and is even more comfortable than she was a year ago.

"It wasn't easy adjusting to a system like that," said Dupree, who poured in 29 points on 12-of-14 shooting in Saturday's 92-83 Game 2 victory at Phoenix to square the series against Seattle. "When you play against it, you think they're just running up and down. But there is a method to their madness. I got to be a part of it last year, and I've been excited to be a part of that this year."

Though parting with Pondexter wasn't easy, Gaines, now in his fourth season at the Mercury helm, was delighted at the chance of adding Dupree.

A second straight trip to the conference finals would make any coach feel that way.

"When I was with Paul Westhead [Gaines' predecessor as the Mercury head coach], we went to see Candice play," Gaines recalled. "Her demeanor is very calm -- she's level all the time, and we liked the way she performed. Whether she won a game or lost a game, she was as the same level of playing all the time."

Whether it's Minnesota or San Antonio in the next round, both will have to do all they can to contain Taurasi and Taylor.

Taurasi averaged 21.6 points during the regular season and is at 18.7 in the playoffs after finishing with 19 Monday night. Taylor put up 16.7 points and 4.9 boards in regular-season play. She is averaging 14.7 points and 7.0 boards through three postseason games following a phenomenal double-double (19 points, 17 rebounds) in Monday's decisive Game 3 at Seattle.

But someone on either team will have to pay attention to Dupree, as well. Her regular-season average of 14.6 points is up to 19 in the playoffs. She also averaged a team-high 8.2 boards in the regular season and is at five per game in the postseason.

"She's a big-time player," Mercury guard/forward DeWanna Bonner said. "She played great this series in the last two games.

"We need her to win."

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