Diana Taurasi’s career night back on track
Diana Taurasi smiles on the court as Phoenix Mercury teammates carefully drag her to her feet in the third quarter of Game 1 of the WNBA Semifinals.
In a previous play, she collided with Las Vegas Aces forward Dierika Hamby while trying to dribble, awkwardly sliding across the floor. Taurasi ran up and down the court in the fourth quarter, supporting a left ankle that had kept him out of the previous four regular-season games and the first round of the playoffs. During the first half of the fourth period, he clenched his teeth and sprained his ankle on the Phoenix bench. Nevertheless, Taurasi finished with 20 points and six assists in the game, a 96–90 loss to the Aces.
Later, when asked how his ankle felt, Torassi’s reply was brief.
“Great,” she said.
His proof? 2 aces of 117-91 at the Michelob Ultra Arena in Las Vegas on Thursday, 48 hours after a 37-point, eight-3-pointer attack. The Best of Five series is now tied 1-1 at Phoenix. Game 3 is on Sunday.
Despite Taurasi’s health concerns, the Mercury charged through the first two rounds of the playoffs, beating the Liberty—a game Taurasi missed—and the Seattle Storm, the defending champions, in single-elimination games. His next assignment is a high-powered Las Vegas offense with last season’s Most Valuable Player, and a bevy of other scoring threats, Aja Wilson.
The Aces earned a double-bye to start the playoffs after a 24–8 regular season record, the league’s second-best record. He held Mercury in Game 1 with powerful shooting from guard Kelsey Plum, who won this season’s sixth Player of the Year award, and Ricuna Williams.
Before Thursday’s game, Mercury center Brittany Griner told reporters she was treating it like a single-elimination game.
“You have to win this game to stay alive. It’s a series, but you definitely wouldn’t want to leave two back home. You’ve made it too hard for yourself,” she said.
The result was a performance of 25 points. He had 16 points, 5 rebounds and 2 assists in his first quarter.
“Brittany is a beast. We’ve asked her to do a lot this year,” Taurasi said on the TV broadcast after the game, possibly referring to Griner’s ability to handle double teams and perform tough defensive tasks.
Griner finished second in MVP voting this season behind the Connecticut Sun’s Jonquel Jones, scoring a career-high 9.5 rebounds per game as well as 20.5 points per game. She is Mercury’s defensive anchor with a wingspan of 7-foot-3.5 inches, a height and an athleticism that makes her nearly impossible to shoot.
Griner’s responsibility in this series has been to protect Aces center Liz Cambage, whose dominance in position and rim protection seems rivaled only by Griner.
Cambage terrifies opponents with his ability to pivot, score and pull down rebounds in the post as they hack their bodies. And the way she can switch shots on defense was one reason the Aces never allowed more than 99 points during regular season play this season. Cambage and Wilson’s tandem on the frontcourt at the start of the season convinced many that Las Vegas was ready for another deep playoff run.
After being taken by storm in last year’s finals, the Aces were inspired to cruise through the regular season with seven players who averaged double figures. They were without Cambage for a stretch after testing positive for the coronavirus, but now, in full force, the Aces are pushing to claim the title that left a team devastated by last year’s injury .
But they will have to outdo a Mercury team that is equally determined to make it to the finals. Phoenix is at its best when its core players of Griner, Taurasi and Skylar Diggins-Smith shoot from across the floor as on Thursday night. Griner made a handful of midrange jumpers. Diggins-Smith scored on all three levels, and as far as Taurasi is concerned, the WNBA’s leading career scorer did what she usually does.
Taurasi said after the game that Mercury reacted in kind in Game 2, following an aggressive, physical exit from Aces on Tuesday. He took a 17-point lead in the first quarter and never gave it up, unlike in Game 1 when the lead fizzled out before the end of his initial first period. With so many shots going on, Taurasi said, “It makes the game easier for you. It was a big test for us in many ways and I think we played well.
Aces coach Bill Liembeer later told reporters that the team could not give Griner an open look outside the post.
“In the post, she is going to do her job. He is the one,” he said. “But the open shot he hit tonight made us very sad. We’d take that shot sometime, but they went in. And we’d get some shots of Taursee on some nights too, but they went in. They are the same. They’re great players, and when they’re going like this, that’s what makes the Phoenix team. “
Even when it appeared that Mercury could not maintain his high-percentage shooting, he added free throws to his arsenal. His first miss from the free-throw line did not occur until the third quarter, and he made 23 of 24 free throws.
Wilson said after the game that Las Vegas was “not locked into our assignment at all.” She continued: “It’s like we were a step behind. You can’t do that against a good Phoenix team.
The aces, with one of the best defenses in the league, had no way of stopping Taurasi on the periphery. His eight 3-pointers were a playoff career high.
After the game, ESPN’s Ross Gould-Onwood asked Taurasi how she felt about going 8-for-11 from 3-point range.
Torassi’s answer was again succinct.
“I only shot 11?” he said.
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