September 19, 2020
What’s next for Diana Taurasi?
And what does it mean for the Phoenix Mercury?
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PALMETTO, FL – SEPTEMBER 17: Diana Taurasi #3 of the Phoenix Mercury shoots a three-point basket against the Minnesota Lynx during the WNBA playoffs on September 17, 2020, at Feld Entertainment Center in Palmetto, Florida. Copyright 2020 NBAE (Photo by Stephen Gosling/NBAE via Getty Images)
It was Diana Taurasi’s game, make no mistake about that. With the other members of her team struggling to score, the 38-year-old veteran tried to put them on her back like she has so many times.
The effort fell one point short as the Phoenix Mercury fell to the Minnesota Lynx 80-79 in the second round of the WNBA playoffs.
On a night when she led the team with 28 points and had two four-point plays as she desperately tried to get her team the win, Taurasi didn’t have the ball in her hands when it came down to the wire. With a one-point deficit and more than six seconds on the clock, the team’s best player wasn’t involved in the final shot.
“Sandy’s call,” Taurasi said after the game.
Phoenix head coach Sandy Brondello didn’t remember things the same way, explaining that they were trying to free Taurasi on a screen.
“Obviously, Sky (Diggins-Smith) took it one-on-one, which is never a bad option,” Brondello said. “But it was actually going to go back to Diana.”
When it was too late to get the ball to anyone else, Diggins-Smith took an off-balance shot against two defenders. It fell helplessly off-target as the horn sounded.
It was the second time a double-team on Diggins-Smith cost the Mercury a chance at victory. On their previous possession, they had planned to use a play very much like the one that helped them beat the Washington Mystics in the opening round.
Against the Mystics, Diggins-Smith was able to throw a high pass across the court to Shey Peddy, who was open for the game-winning three. This time, there were two big defenders on the Mercury’s point guard.
The ball was deflected into the hands of Brianna Turner. The problem? Turner was out of bounds at the time.
“It’s a play we run a lot, and we’ve had some success with it,” Taurasi said. “They mucked it up and took us out of what we wanted to get to.”
The Mercury had overcome so much this season that they had been asked more than once if they felt like a team of destiny. That turned out not to be the case, but there were things to build on.
“We showed incredible character,” Taurasi said. “I mean, we went through a lot of stuff this year, on and off the court—injuries, people leaving. We stayed together.”
Taurasi just has to decide if she’s going to be back to help continue to build. Her coach expressed confidence that she would, but Taurasi wasn’t quite ready to put the questions of retirement to bed.
“A lot can happen,” she said. “You know, with everything that’s going on with COVID, thinking about playing in a bubble again. There’s a lot of factors that go to it more than just being healthy and, hopefully, being ready to play.”
One of those factors is her contract. Taurasi just finished her final season on her current deal.
Phoenix gave out several large, fully-guaranteed contracts during the 2020 free agency period. Three of those were for more than Taurasi makes, and all three are in place through at least 2023.
What the Mercury will be able to offer next season will depend on many things out of their hands, including the salary cap. They have the option of placing the core tag on Taurasi and giving her one final big payday before she retires, but that would put them in the position of paying three different players over $200,000 each.
Those questions are for another day. After the heartbreaker on Thursday night, Taurasi was looking outward at the parts of her life she’s been missing since July.
“I get to see my son tomorrow,” she said. “So, I’m happy to get the hell out of here.”