Nancy Lieberman and Pat Summitt were the stuff of legend. Cheryl Miller was a pioneer. Lisa Leslie was the superstar. But Diana Taurasi is, without doubt the greatest of all time.
However, for the Phoenix Mercury some nights she doesn’t even need to be the best player on the court. This was evident when the Arizona team took on the newest WNBA franchise, the Las Vegas Aces, on Sunday. Taurasi struggled shooting the ball at times but she got great help from her running mates, and did what she needed to win the game.
In particular, Brittney Griner showed her dominance as the most intimidating big in the league. For a player that sometimes gets accused of being lazy on the boards, Griner muscled her way to snare 12 defensive and three offensive rebounds. Her real area of expertise exhibited by blocking seven shots – plus arguably two more – and changing seven or eight others. Griner’s presence allows the rest of Phoenix’s team to roam the passing lanes and play tight to their assignments knowing there is a good line of protection behind them.
This is what the Mercury rely on Griner for, but she can also provide offensive support that gives Taurasi time to find a rhythm. On nights when the GOAT, now age 36, struggles to get going, back-up is on hand. And Griner did it in myriad ways on Sunday: power moves beneath the basket, pop-out turnaround fadeaways and backing down her defender for baby hooks. She shot 14 times and hit on seven of them, including 5 of 6 from the line for 19.
During the final quarter, the Aces showed why they are going to be a force in the next two-three years. The team features the youngest player in the league in Jisu Park, a 19-year-old center from South Korea who is still a little green but didn’t back down from Griner to grab 11 rebounds. Las Vegas also boasts back-to-back first overall lottery picks in A’ja Wilson, the center who is on her way to winning Rookie of the Year, and Kelsey Plum, a future elite point guard who is the highest scoring player in NCAA history.
But like all GOATs, Taurasi knows when she needs to turn it on. This is a shooting guard who occasionally plays small forward, who has previously led the league in assists, been an MVP, a five-time scoring champion in the WNBA and multiple-time Olympic champion. While her defense may have slipped slightly at the age of 36, she can still lock-in when it matters and it is still intimidating hearing her barking at you from her defensive stance.
With eight minutes to go in the final quarter, the WNBA all-time leading scorer received the ball on the move – when she’s at her most dangerous – coming off a baseline screen and immediately proceeding to turn the corner, splitting two defenders and laying the ball up over a third.
Then, after another push from the Aces, Taurasi calls the play, passes off the ball then slips behind a screen on the wing to step outside and add another three-pointer to her all-time leading list; and secure the win.
It was not the prettiest of performances. Taurasi shot just 8 of 23, hitting just 3 of 13 from behind the arc. Despite this, she also finished with a +/- of plus nine, so she still found ways to put her stamp on the game. That’s what the great ones do, they don’t need it to look pretty, they just make it count.
Famously, Kobe Bryant once called Taurasi the White Mamba for her ability to get the job done. This sentiment is an area where Bryant recently suggested LeBron James needs to improve in a Bleacher Report article by Howard Beck. But just as James doesn’t need to concern himself with the thoughts of players on a pedestal below him; neither does the greatest of all time, Diana Taurasi.
Featured photo via Getty Images/Double Clutch