August 24, 2020 

Phoenix Mercury goes forward ‘by committee’

Against the Washington Mystics, though, it was Taurasi who took the lead.

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Orlando, FL – AUGUST 23: Bria Hartley #14 of the Phoenix Mercury shoots the ball against the Washington Mystics on August 23, 2020, at the Feld Entertainment Center in Palmetto, Florida. Copyright 2020 NBAE (Photo by Stephen Gosling/NBAE via GettyImages)

You have nine available players, only eight of whom step on the court. One of the missing is your 6-foot-9 star center. How do you make up the difference? If you’re the Phoenix Mercury (7-7), you are fortunate to still have one of the greatest who has ever played the game leading you.

After missing most of last season and several games this season, it was legitimate to wonder if Diana Taurasi still had it in the tank to carry a team. Against the Washington Mystics (4-8), she put those questions to bed, at least for now.

“From here on out, no matter what happens, I put a big burden on myself just to make sure I’m in the game, I’m in practice, I’m in shootaround, I’m communicating,” Taurasi said. “Am I going to play at the level that I’ve played the last 20 years? Who knows, but I’m gonna put a big burden on myself to be present every single day and bring any and every ounce of fight I still have.”

Taurasi went off for 34 points on 8-for-15 shooting. Seven of those makes came beyond the 3-point line where she shot 54 percent. Eleven more points came from the free-throw line where she went 11 for 13.

The two misses were still on Taurasi’s mind after the game was over.

“That’s the first thing I said when I got off the court,” Taurasi joked. “I can’t believe it. I had Leilani (Mitchell) talking shit behind me and I was like, ‘Ah, now I have to see her in the lobby!’

It wasn’t all about Taurasi, though. With Brittney Griner out, everyone needed to step up in some way. That started in the paint with Kia Vaughn, Brianna Turner, and Alanna Smith.

“We’re gonna have to do it by committee,” Taurasi said. “Our energy, our effort, our execution, offensively, defensively. We’re gonna have to chip in a little bit and it’s gonna be everyone’s night on different nights. But, you know, those hustle plays, that communication, that effort, if we can keep that at a high level, then we can live with the results.”

As the initiator on that committee, Vaughn had 16 points and five rebounds. Her impact to start the game was especially strong, getting the team off on the right foot with nine points in the first quarter.

“I’ve been struggling making those shots since I’ve been here,” Vaughn said. “Overall, I got us going. I got it started.”

Turner was the beast on the boards, grabbing a career-high 17 rebounds to go along with nine points and three blocks. Smith made the Mystics’ offense think a bit about putting up shots in the paint with four blocks in her 21 minutes off the bench. She also added five rebounds and four assists.

With two days off before playing the final eight games of the regular season over 16 days, the team now needs to figure out how to keep things going. With the roster down to nine players, it’s easy to let things go sideways. There’s no guarantee that Griner will return, so this may be who they are through the rest of the regular season and any playoff games.

“Like anything in life when you start doubting yourself, start doubting the group, as a group, you start thinking things,” Taurasi said. “You know, you can wander into some bad places.”

Staying out of those bad places will be key moving forward because both Taurasi and Brondello said they had no idea if Griner would return this season. As Brondello noted, even if Griner does return, she will have to quarantine for seven to 10 days, meaning she wouldn’t be available to the team for most of the regular season.

For now, they will look at that as an opportunity for those still in the bubble and hope everyone can rise to the occasion.

“When you’re so used to relying on someone that’s not there, it gives opportunity for other people to fill that,” Taurasi said. “And I think today, the way Kia started the game, Breezy with 17 rebounds, Alanna playing hard all over the place, hit a big three. I mean, we’re gonna need that. We’re gonna have to do by committee. Today was my turn for a lot of points. The next game that can be (Skylar Diggins-Smith). The next game it’s Bria (Hartley).

“I mean, this is an ongoing story that we’re going to keep writing and it’s going to be different every time. And as long as we put the effort and we all chip in a little bit every game, we have a chance to be really good. And it’s only the beginning. We can’t look too far ahead. We can’t look too much into this one. So now, it’s the story continues,’‘ Taurasi said.

Written by Kim Doss

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