August 9, 2020
Taurasi avoids a major injury, but Phoenix comes up short against Seattle yet again
It was a familiar night for the Mercury, as Taurasi dealt with lower-body tightness while the team lost to the Storm.
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Diana Taurasi #3 of the Phoenix Mercury plays defense during the game against the Seattle Storm on August 8, 2020 at Feld Entertainment Center in Palmetto, Florida. (Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE viaGetty Images)
Late Saturday night, when the Phoenix Mercury released the results of an MRI for Diana Taurasi, which showed “no structural damage” and verified that the injury was not related to her 2019 back injury, it was good news to cap off a bad day.
The prognosis was far from certain after ESPN’s broadcast showed Taurasi wincing in pain on the bench, then becoming frustrated as she struggled to walk along the baseline. It looked more like the 2019 Taurasi, uncomfortable and frustrated, than the wizard who’d led Phoenix to four straight wins.
The Mercury now face a recovery for Taurasi as well as another game’s reminder that they can’t get over the hump against the Seattle Storm.
Already without breakout scorer Bria Hartley, the Mercury were outscored by Seattle by 20 in the first three quarters of the loss. They hardly had an answer for Jewell Loyd (a player Phoenix almost never can contain) and Seattle’s ball movement created a 12-24 night from deep. Though the Storm shot just 38.5 percent from the field, the game was over by the fourth quarter, when Taurasi pulled up in pain on a drive to the hoop.
Taurasi landed awkwardly on a play she’s mastered — a loping two-step drive through contact — and appeared to have hurt her leg or back. If there were a crowd in Bradenton, the injury would have suctioned all sound out of it. WNBA headlines last season were dominated by Taurasi’s long, difficult recovery from April back surgery, which became a pulled hamstring, which became a lost season.
“They think it’s a muscle around her hip area,” head coach Sandy Brondello said postgame. “Let’s just pray it’s not too bad and she’s back on the court again in a few days.”
Knowing Taurasi’s relatively positive prognosis now, timing will be the challenge for Brondello and her staff. Teams don’t have the benefit of patience in the 22-game regular season at IMG Academy. And the Mercury, at 4-3, again are in a position of needing Taurasi badly on the court while not wanting to rush the 38-year-old back from injury.
Phoenix has to get the best from Taurasi to have any chance of winning. Saturday wasn’t the best game for Skylar Diggins-Smith, either, and it confirmed what the first week of the season hinted at: Even with a deeper, younger roster and Diggins-Smith in tow, the Mercury are only going to win with their offense and that offense needs Taurasi.
“We can’t rely always on our offense,” Sophie Cunningham said postgame, then doubled back. “But in these types of games, you need some offense, too.”
It was indeed a slobber-knocker, and Phoenix was up for it until the second quarter, when Seattle outscored them by 16. The Mercury got it back within 15 in the third quarter, but the game flipped again when they gave up three straight open triples to 2018 MVP Breanna Stewart.
After Taurasi left the game, Phoenix came back to cut the final lead to six, a signal of a bench that has more juice than it has in the past. But that’s not enough against the WNBA title favorites, a Storm team that took down the Mercury in the semifinals en route to a championship in 2018.
The road to a trophy goes through Seattle this season, and in their first test, the Mercury failed. While Taurasi should be ready far sooner than expected, that’s far from a victory. The hope was Phoenix wouldn’t have to rely on her so much this season, but everything that unfolded Saturday shows they still go as far as she goes. Even if Taurasi is back in action this week, that fact isn’t going away.