By Vaughan Jones/For SomosSports
PHOENIX — Diana Taurasi was the focus of discussion at practice Thursday after her late-game shots to force overtime in Game 2 of the WNBA semifinal series between her Phoenix Mercury and the Seattle Storm.
Taurasi added to her WNBA résumé by becoming the league’s all-time leader in playoff scoring on Sunday, as well as leading the charge on a 20-point comeback to tie the game late in the 4th quarter on Tuesday. Neither game went the Mercury’s way, but that didn’t stop Mercury head coach Sandy Brondello from praising Taurasi’s clutch mentality.
“That’s why they call her the GOAT. She is the GOAT. She loves those moments, and she lives for those moments, and she wants those shots, and she makes those shots. I don’t think anyone does it as well as her,” Brondello said.
With Phoenix’s win over the Connecticut Sun in a “win or go home” play-in game last Thursday, Taurasi’s record in play-in games improved to 13-0. Despite hitting one of the most clutch shots of her career to tie the game with 3.6 seconds left on Tuesday, Taurasi was as humble as ever.
“It was a big shot, you know. I’ve taken a lot of those and a lot of them haven’t gone in, so sometimes they go in. Sometimes they don’t. You just want to get a clean look and get a shot up,” Taurasi said.
Storm guard Sue Bird, however, thought a little more highly of Taurasi’s heroics.
“Diana hit an incredible shot, that’s the story. That’s all there is to it. It was an incredible play by an incredible player,” Bird said, giving a grin that seemed to be equal parts adoration of her friend and colleague and envy of her opponent.
The friendship and rivalry between Taurasi and Bird is no secret, as they went to college together at the University of Connecticut and have met up several times in playoff situations.
“No matter who’s on the floor, no matter who’s on her team, no matter what year it is, she’s going to have a chance. We’ve had some pretty epic battles in the playoffs and I’m sure tomorrow will just be another one,” Bird said.
Game 3 is Friday night in Phoenix, with Seattle up 2-0 in the series and eyeing a sweep.
Bird and Taurasi are the WNBA’s all-time leaders in assists and points respectively, and both are praised as some of the best to ever play the game. Taurasi, though, tends to not get hung up on the praise that comes her way.
“I just go out there and play. You can’t control the narrative; you can’t control what people say about you. One person will call you the GOAT and the next person calls you an (expletive). At the end of the day, I just like to play basketball. I like to be in the gym, I like to work out, I like to be in a team atmosphere, I just love the game and it’s gotten me this far,” Taurasi said.
Taurasi’s game has garnered a lot of respect over the years, more recently from NBA legends like Kobe Bryant and LeBron James, both of whom have tweeted about Taurasi over the past week and have referred to her as the “GOAT” or “Greatest of All Time”.
As the WNBA’s viewership numbers continue to rise, more people have witnessed Taurasi’s clutch instinct and knack for scoring. Despite more eyes watching her games than ever before, Taurasi doesn’t see herself leading by example.
“I don’t really do the role model thing very much. I just try to live life and try to be a better person every day, and I roll with that model,” she said, laughing.
Taurasi, a 14-year veteran and three-time WNBA champion, seems to see these playoffs as another day at the office. She’s averaging 26.5 points and 7.8 assists and making it look easy in the process, and despite being down 0-2 and facing elimination, Taurasi has a cool head.
“We have enough experience and enough talent to come out here tomorrow and expect to win,” she said.
Brondello still has a positive outlook going into Game 3 at home, with WNBA All-Defensive First Team center Brittney Griner and elite scorer DeWanna Bonner at her side, Taurasi has enough talent around her to mount a comeback.
“This is a team that’s played together and had great chemistry, and they know how to beat you if you’re not locked in, we’re still confident that we can beat them. We’ve got some champion players, look how big Diana has come up in big game situations,” Brondello said.