Diana Taurasi: Mercury star powers Phoenix to Game 2 win with GOAT heroics

by 24USATVOct. 14, 2021, 8 a.m. 20
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The 39-year-old superstar is two wins away from her fourth WNBA championship, and she's not taking her foot off the gas pedal just yet.

PHOENIX — Diana Taurasi was not the best player on her team Wednesday night. That was Brittney Griner. She was not the best guard on the floor. That was Chicago’s Courtney Vandersloot. But Taurasi’s greatest gift is not a skill so much as a genetic trait, the D-N-A in Diana, a badass quality that she carries everywhere and summons when she needs it most.

It takes many forms. Here was one: Taurasi rising, sinking a 29-foot-three pointer and drawing a foul, then making the free throw, a four-point play that somehow felt both ridiculous and highly predictable. It was overtime of Game 2 of the WNBA Finals, after all. The Phoenix Mercury needed Taurasi to go full Taurasi, and so she did. Taurasi scored eight points in overtime. The Sky scored seven. The Mercury won, 91-86.

“She’s amazing, isn’t she?” Phoenix coach Sandy Brondello said. “She is just a player that loves those moments. There is no fear, even when she is so tired.”

Said Griner: “That’s the GOAT right there, OK? We know what Dee can bring. It doesn’t matter how she starts the game. When it’s crunch time, we have all the faith in the world that Dee is going to make clutch shots for us. She does it year in and year out.”

The Finals now go to Chicago, tied 1-1. Taurasi probably cannot carry her team to the championship—she is 39, she has lost a step or two, and the Sky are too good. But if Taurasi can carry the Mercury for one or two more critical stretches, that might be enough. For now, Phoenix has both life and hope. Chicago has a concern: Vandersloot, a breathtaking passer who hit a leaning layup over an outstretched Griner to force overtime, walked out with a boot on the left foot. She said she will be fine. The Sky need her to be.

The Sky never should have let this game get to Taurasi time. They led for almost the entire game. They are the quicker and deeper team, switching and trapping on defense, getting to their spots faster on offense. But winning a Game 2 on the road after you already won Game 1 requires something more, a perpetual poise that the Sky couldn’t quite muster.

When a delayed replay review wiped out a Sky three-pointer in the fourth quarter, Chicago seemed rattled. Reviewing a shot several possessions later might be the right thing for the game but it is still bizarre for both fans and the players. The Sky went from leading 72-65 to trailing 70-69, a technologically induced run that helped force overtime. But the Mercury also lost a bucket due to a late review, and anyway, this is the game now.

Chicago coach James Wade walked into his postgame press conference determined to complain about the officiating. He used the first question to bemoan his team’s four free throws in 45 minutes, and said “They played more physical and I think they were allowed to. We shot four free throws. Four free throws. Call it what you will … I think when you attack the rim and get fouled, it should be called. I’ve never heard of ‘let them play.’” He had a point, but this was a road Finals game before a raucous crowd. You can’t count on whistles.

Wade knows that, too: “We were a little impatient and shot the first three that was there. I expect better execution.”

In Game 1 and long stretches of Game 2, the Sky looked like the superior team. They might well turn out to be. But Griner kept her team in this one with 29 points on 19 shots. Everything she does looks easier than it must be. As Taurasi said, “We know where our bread and butter is. BG is playing at a different level right now. There is really nothing anybody can do.”

In the fourth quarter, Griner handed the baton to Taurasi, perhaps the best finisher in the game’s history. This has to end at some point, doesn’t it? Taurasi is 39. She was harassed for most of the night by Allie Quigley and for bits of it by Kahleah Copper. She only attempted three two-pointers. She had zero assists. She did not draw a single foul driving to the basket. Naturally, she took over the game anyway.

“You try to laser in on each possession, each timeout, and zero in on each other,” Taurasi said. “At the end of the day, it ends up just being basketball.”

Part of Taurasi’s aura is that she is obviously made of different stuff but still has a vulnerable, everywoman way about her. The Mercury teased Taurasi about her lone steal, a rarity for her at this age, and she joined in: “I finally get a steal and then I trip over my own feet. That’s kind of my life in a lot of ways.” In the last six days, she summoned a preposterous Game 5 performance to eliminate Las Vegas, welcomed her second child with wife Penny Taylor, got blown out in Game 1 of the Finals, then rescued her team in Game 2. She needs two wins for her fourth WNBA championship. She is 39 years old, no longer a dominant 40-minute player, but still Diana Taurasi. She knows it. Her opponents know it. And she knows they know it.
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