May 25, 2021 

Diana Taurasi out for ‘at least four weeks’ with a chest injury

A fracture in her sternum will sideline Taurasi and raises questions about her Olympic availability

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Keeping a team in good health was always going to be the biggest challenge for the Phoenix Mercury this season.

Less than two weeks into the season, that challenge is rearing its ugly head, as the team announced Tuesday that Diana Taurasi will be out for at least four weeks with a chest injury.

Back on May 16 in Connecticut, Taurasi drove into the lane at the 7-minute mark of the third quarter and was fouled while tumbling to the ground. As she started to stand, Taurasi immediately reacted with pain and stayed on the ground, gripping at her chest.

She continued to display discomfort but stayed on the court, shooting her two free throws and playing the next 80 seconds of action before being subbed out at the 5:38 mark of the third. Taurasi then went immediately to Mercury trainer Hannah Breck on the sideline and continued to point at her chest, where we now know a fracture occurred.

As visible on the television broadcast, Taurasi stood to talk to Breck for at least a full Mercury offensive possession before sitting back down in her bench seat, where she appeared to be in some form of discomfort. Throughout the rest of the third quarter, Taurasi can be seen holding a hand to her chest and was often holding a towel there, too, even when getting up to meet the team during a timeout or at one point, yelling at a referee from the bench in the third (and yes, that’s no surprise to anyone).

But even while clearly in some amount of pain, Taurasi played in the fourth quarter that evening and in the Mercury’s next two games, two days later in Washington and five days later back in Phoenix against Connecticut. In the two games Taurasi played through the injury, she played in 51 minutes as the Mercury split the two games, tallying 30 points, five assists, two rebounds and four turnovers.

There’s no way to sugarcoat it: this is a crushing injury for both team and player. The Mercury team with only 11 players on the roster to begin with, and while Bria Hartley is still progressing in her recovery from an ACL tear, head coach Sandy Brondello said on Monday that there’s no timeline yet for her return and noted that Hartley hasn’t started doing any one-on-one drills yet.

The Mercury are about to get center Kia Vaughn back from playing overseas and quarantine protocols on returning to the WNBA, which would’ve given Phoenix a 10-player rotation that was just missing Hartley from being its complete roster.

Now, it’s safe to assume Cierra Burdick will continue to stick around on a hardship exemption as Mercury’s 10th player. And while the Mercury still have Skylar Diggins-Smith and Brittney Griner to lead the team, this will force a few younger players to get more minutes in the rotation and will shine a spotlight on guards Kia Nurse, Sophie Cunningham and Shey Peddy, as well as forward Megan Walker, too.

Taurasi dealt with back and hamstring injuries in 2019 and only played in six games but came back in the bubble to play in 21-of-24 games between the regular season and postseason. Taurasi spent most of the offseason working out daily at the Mercury’s practice facility with Diggins-Smith and felt great throughout training camp and into the beginning of the season, even knocking down a buzzer-beater in Minnesota on opening night.

But for Taurasi, the “at least four weeks” language from the team will not only be brutal for the Mercury, but it also casts some doubt on her potential Olympic availability, too. And while there is a chance it is just four weeks, which would put the four-time gold medalist back in late June, if the injury lingers into July and near the July 15 start to the Olympic break, it would force some tough conversations between Taurasi, the Mercury and USA Basketball.

Make no mistake about it: for the player, for the team, for the league and even for the country, this is a truly unfortunate blow.

Written by Alex Simon

SF Bay Area native, 2x grad (Elon, ASU), adjunct professor at ASU's Cronkite School, editor & journalist always looking to tell unique stories.

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