Amid the bright arena lights at Footprint Center in Phoenix, Diana Taurasi’s shone brightest before the start of Game 1 of the 2021 WNBA Finals.
After a season-long fans vote on the greatest players in WNBA history, the longtime mainstay of the Phoenix Mercury was chosen as the 25-year-old league’s Greatest Of All Time (a.k.a. the “GOAT”).
It’s hard to argue with the selection. She’s the league’s all-time leading scorer with three WNBA championships to go with five Olympic gold medals.
Along with the special award for the occasion, she held up a tiny onesie that read “FUTURE GOAT”.
That was perhaps the summit amid the peaks of a busy weekend.
Friday October 8: Game 5 Against Las Vegas
The deciding game of the semifinals between the Phoenix Mercury and the Las Vegas Aces was a battle between established vets like Taurasi and Brittney Griner, and the next generation of WNBA talent in 2020 MVP A’ja Wilson, this season’s WNBA Sixth Woman of the Year Kelsey Plum, and center Liz Cambage.
Tied at 81 with 1:12 left in regulation, Taurasi rolled off a screen to receive a pass from Skylar Diggins-Smith with an open look from three-point range. Fellow Olympian Chelsea Gray could only watch as the shot rattled in. The Mercury lead 84-81.
The Aces promptly worked down the floor where Gray found a good look at the top of the key. She swished it and tied the game. A frantic next minute of near misses followed where neither team could score.
What broke the deadlock was when Taurasi tried to maneuver on a gimpy ankle she’s fought all season and lost the ball with seconds remaining. Shey Peddy, trailing the play, grabbed the loose ball and drew a foul while putting up a desperation three with 4.8 seconds left. She made good on two of three free throws and the Mercury were up, 86-84.
The Aces had one last chance on an inbound to Wilson, who a had a step on Griner. The veteran center recovered to block Wilson’s attempt to tie, and then grabbed the ball to seal what would be an 87-84 Mercury win.
Looking on from the backcourt was a happy, if hobbled, Taurasi. She had 24 points to complement Griner’s 28-point, 9-rebound effort, but the stats, the stakes, and the waiting Chicago Sky were a secondary concern.
Her last remark of her post game interview to ESPN revealed the primary concern. A message to her wife, and retired WNBA star — now Mercury director of development and performance — Penny Taylor: “Hold it in, babe. I’m coming!”
Saturday October 9: “GOAT #2”
Taurasi left on a private flight from Las Vegas back to Phoenix. She arrived just in time see her wife give birth to a baby girl. She is their second child, joining their son, Leo, born in 2018.
The Phoenix Mercury Twitter cried out the happy news:
At 4:24 am baby GOAT #2 arrived. Congratulations to Dee and Penny on the birth of their beautiful, healthy baby girl. #FamilyOf4TheValley— Phoenix Mercury - X (@PhoenixMercury) October 9, 2021
‘’It’s been a pretty eventful last two days,’’ Taurasi told the Associated Press. ‘’What we got done in Vegas was no easy feat. That was a very difficult game that we found ourselves winning and then obviously flying home and getting the best win ever, a healthy daughter and a healthy wife.’’
She wouldn’t have long to celebrate the new arrival. The next day would be Game 1 of the WNBA Finals. Their opponents, the Chicago Sky, eliminated the Connecticut Sun in four games in their semifinal. They were rested, ready, and they had a seven-year score to settle.
In 2014, the Sky and the Mercury met in the WNBA finals. Taylor was a backcourt mate with Taurasi back then. Elena Delle Donne was the Sky’s spear carrier alongside “the VanderQuigs”. Griner was dueling in the paint with Sylvia Fowles, who was playing for her old college coach, Pokey Chatman.
That final ended with the Mercury sweeping the Sky in three games and Taurasi was WNBA Finals MVP.
Some of the names have changed for both teams, but one superstar name joins the fray now. At the start of the 2021 season the Sky brought perennial all-star Candace Parker back to her hometown.
Some feel she should have been named to the GOAT honor the fans gave Taurasi.
Sunday October 10: This is not 2014
The Mercury held their home court through the first quarter leading, 25-20. The second quarter, and rest of the game, belonged to the Sky.
Parker, along with Allie Quigley and Courtney Vandersloot, powered a 17-0 second quarter surge that left the weary Mercury reeling by halftime. In the second half Keelah Copper made her presence known, leading all scorers with 21 points. Stephanie Dolson came off the bench to score 14, and add to the defensive help on Griner.
With 16 points and 8 rebounds, Parker put numbers on the board, but her greatest influence was as a steady veteran presence for the Sky. She was also an added defensive hedge against Taurasi, who had 17 points, but also had 6 turnovers.
The Sky won the opener 91-77, and afterward Taurasi wouldn’t have any excuses about fatigue. “We can’t turn the ball over like that especially not in the Finals. That’s just me being a bad basketball player,” she said to AZ Central. “We’ll adjust some things and hopefully we’ll be in better positions to get out of those traps on the court.”
The Sky take the early lead in the WNBA Finals with Game 2 set for Wednesday in Phoenix. Yet even for a battle-hardened Taurasi, a new arrival takes a little bit of the sting out of being down 1 games to none.
“Penny is unbelievable, and she’s the cutest, healthiest little girl, so we’re really happy.”