Mercury earn first win behind vintage Diana Taurasi double-double

Diana Taurasi, right, and Brittney Griner combined for 41 points in the Phoenix Mercury’s first win of the season Thursday against the Minnesota Lynx at Footprint Center. (Photo couresy of Phoenix Mercury)

PHOENIX – Diana Taurasi had stumbled out of the gates to start her 19th year in the WNBA entering Thursday’s home matchup against the Minnesota Lynx.

Through the Phoenix Mercury’s first two games of the regular season, Taurasi accumulated more turnovers (12) than assists (11) while shooting 28.1% from the field and making only 3-of-18 3-pointers.

That’s all in the past now.

In a vintage performance, Taurasi drank from the fountain of youth to finish with a 23-point, 10-assist double-double and lead the Mercury to their first win of the season, 90-81.

“It’s not always easy, but you just stick with it, keep coming back,” Taurasi said. “Our whole focus here is how do we make this team better, but after our first two losses, I feel like I wasn’t making the team better in a lot of ways … I made a concerted effort tonight.”

A guard-heavy, high-volume outside shooting offense is what Mercury fans can likely expect moving forward – with an ample dose of Brittney Griner in the paint – and Thursday’s game proved this system can lead to wins.

Phoenix’s offense came out blistering hot, converting 64 percent of their shots in the first half. The Mercury amazingly hit 11 of their first 14 3-pointers and shared the ball well, generating 23 assists.

Taurasi hit four 3-pointers of her own, becoming the only WNBA player to eclipse 1,300 in a career. Her six first-half assists were the result of good ball movement and teamwork that this new roster had yet to show much of against the Los Angeles Sparks and Chicago Sky.

“She’s a phenomenal player,” Mercury guard Sophie Cunningham said of the 40-year-old veteran. “The way she thinks is outstanding, she makes everyone else around her better. For her to still be playing at this level with how old she is is literally insane.”

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Cunningham was another of the Mercury’s players with a discernible bounce-back performance. After failing to convert a single field goal in Sunday’s home opener, Cunningham was one of five Phoenix players to score at least 13 points Thursday.

The new guard duo of Moriah Jefferson and Sug Sutton added 13 and 14 points, respectively, and Griner added 19 points and eight rebounds to a team effort.

Despite the encouraging win, the Mercury still have some chemistry and discipline issues to iron out. Turnovers remain a problem with this team, and their 25 personal fouls were one short of the league’s season-high for a team in a single game.

“It’s a work in progress, and today we took a step in the right direction,” Taurasi said. “We’re a little more comfortable with each other. It doesn’t happen overnight. Sometimes it happens through losses, which suck. Tonight it came through a win. But we’re finding our competitive spirit as a group and it felt good tonight.”

Team chemistry comes through the experience of playing together, but it can also come through a team’s stars leading by example. It seemed Taurasi regaining her form was the first domino to fall that helped her teammates play at their best.

Taurasi became the oldest player in WNBA history to score 20-plus points in Thursday’s win. Both she and coach Vanessa Nygaard credited Taurasi’s extended success to a year-round commitment to training hard and improving her game.

“I came to Phoenix to coach Diana Taurasi,” Nygaard said. “To help her to have a great season and to keep pushing her and keep pushing her game. She works so hard in the offseason, why wouldn’t she be great?”

The Mercury will benefit from extended rest, with their next game not coming until June 2 against the Sparks (1-1), who defeated the Mercury 94-71 in the season opener.

Josh Bootzin jaw-sh boot-zin (he/him)
Sports Reporter, Phoenix

Josh Bootzin expects to graduate in December 2023 with a master’s degree in sports journalism. He receive bachelor’s of arts degrees in statistics and creative writing from the University of Pittsburgh in 2021 and hopes to build a career in data journalism around proficiencies in statistics, print journalism and a love for sports.

Alyssa Polc uh-lis-uh paulk (she/her/hers)
Sports Digital Producer, Phoenix

Alyssa Polczynski expects to graduate in December 2023 with a master’s degree in mass communication. Polczynski has interned as a copywriter at Envida Social and as a multimedia journalist at Corewell Health.