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Even in Defeat, Diana Taurasi Is Magic

The Mercury dropped their second straight to the Storm in the conference finals, but it was a player from the losing side who created the night’s most memorable moment

AP Images/Ringer illustration

On Friday, August 24, I sent a DM to Rebecca Lobo on Twitter. I’d looked at the schedule for the second round of the WNBA playoffs and saw that she was going to be part of the broadcast team for the Seattle Storm–Phoenix Mercury series, and I knew that I was going to be watching each of the games between the Storm and Mercury, and also I knew that I was going to write something about the series after Game 2, so I buzzed her to see if she would take a few minutes after she’d finished calling the game to talk about basketball (and basketball-adjacent) things. This is the message I sent:

“Yo. Got any time after the Tuesday games to hop on the phone for a few minutes? I’m plotting on writing a thing about whatever cool thing it is that happens that night. If not, no worries.”

Now, there are two things to point out here. First, I used the word “games” because the Washington Mystics and the Atlanta Dream were also playing Game 2 of their semifinal series the same evening as the Storm and the Mercury were playing theirs. (A very quick recap: The Dream won to tie the series at 1-1, and basically the entire game was close and intense, and thus, one would suspect, “good.” But late in the fourth quarter, Elena Delle Donne, one of the league’s truly top-level talents, suffered a knee injury that looked extra unpleasant, meaning the game actually cannot be referred to as “good,” only as “extremely and profoundly bad.” Or, said another way, then as “fucking very sucky.”)

Second: Lobo, an Olympic gold medalist and award-winning collegiate national champion and former WNBA All-Star and inductee into both the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame (2010) and the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame (2017), responded shortly after I messaged her. She agreed to talk for a few minutes, leaving instructions for how and when to reach her. Then she sent a second message immediately after the first, and the second message is the one that’s the most important here so that’s the one I’m going to share with you. It read: “The cool thing will most likely involve Taurasi. I love, love, love watching her compete.”

Five nights later, that’s literally what happened; Diana Taurasi did a cool thing.

The Storm had spent 38 of the game’s 40 minutes pulling away from the Mercury. There was a point during the third quarter, for example, when the Storm were up by 19 and looking very much like the basketball version of that scene in Kill Bill when O’ren Ishii slices that guy’s head off. And there was a point early in the fourth quarter, for another example, when the Mercury were down by 16 and looking very much like the basketball version of that scene in Fight Club when Jared Leto gets his face turned into a hamburger patty. And there was a point late in the fourth quarter, for a final example, when Natasha Howard banked in a runner for the Storm to put them up nine with a little over two minutes to go and it all definitely seemed over and done with. But then, all of a sudden, just like that, it wasn’t.

Taurasi came down and, knowing that the Mercury had just gotten a bad whistle on their previous possession, charged into the lane anticipating a makeup call. The whistle never came, but she scored an easy layup, and that was all it took for her to remember that she was the most feared, most ferocious player in the playoffs.

Breanna Stewart scored to give the Storm their nine-point cushion back with 1:45 to go, but it was no matter. Taurasi, an all-world colossus, had already decided to summon the entirety of her basketball fury. She brought the ball up the court, then pulled up from six feet behind the 3-point line with 17 seconds left on the shot clock. It went in. About 67 seconds later, with the Mercury down six, she peeled her way around a screen to hit another 3. The Storm tried to run as many seconds off the clock as they could on their next possession, but eventually gave the ball back to Phoenix with the Mercury down three and seven seconds left in the game.

DeWanna Bonner, inbounding the ball from the right sideline on the Mercury’s side of the court, lobbed it up to Brittney Griner, who had floated over toward the opposite corner. Griner plucked it out of the air, and before her feet even touched the ground she was already looking for Taurasi. Because she knew what everyone else on the court knew. And what everyone in the stands knew. And what everyone watching the game on TV knew. And what all of the birds and the bugs and the animals and the slugs and the plants and the dirt and the sun and the universe and the amoebas knew: that Taurasi was taking that shot.

Taurasi, who was already moving toward Griner, caught the pass behind the 3-point line, dribbled one time to her left so she could have an inch of space between herself and the two defenders who were suddenly guarding her, planted her feet, rose as she squared up so as to try to balance herself as she drifted out of bounds, then flicked the ball at the rim. The ball didn’t make a big noise or any sound at all, but watching the replays, if you open your heart enough, it sounded a lot in the air like how a jet sounds during a flyby. (My very favorite thing about watching the replay is Seattle’s Sue Bird. As soon as Griner gets the ball, Sue not only knows that it’s going to Taurasi, but also knows exactly where Taurasi wants to go to shoot it, which you can tell because Bird runs to meet Taurasi there before Taurasi even arrives, which is incredible.)

Ryan Ruocco, calling the play, let his voice rise to meet the moment.

Bonner lobs it in …

And then ...

Griner Finds Taurasiiiii …

And then …

A THREEEEEE …

And finally…

IT’S GOOD! SHE GOT IT! THE GOAT! DELIVERS! AGAIN! TIE GAME!

It was the cool thing.

The Mercury looked dead and were dead and had gone for oh-for-a-billion from 3 in the game, and then Taurasi hit three 3s in a row in 100 or so seconds to reset everything.

The game went into overtime, and the Storm actually, yes, ended up winning, and up 2-0 in the best-of-five they’ll very likely end up winning the series, yes, and then probably end up winning the championship in a couple weeks, yes, and there will be a dozen different story lines to peel through when that happens, yes—deservedly so, obviously, clearly, duh. But the night, even in defeat, belonged to Taurasi, and belongs to Taurasi. It was another legacy moment; a forever fireball situation; an all-at-once encapsulation of the mystery and mystique and brilliant aura that seems to be glowing out of Taurasi’s eyeballs and fingertips in all settings, but especially when it matters the most.

When Lobo and I spoke a little bit after overtime had ended, we touched on several different things (Camille Little’s defense; Breanna Stewart as the MVP; Sue Bird’s endless excellence; what a color analyst’s responsibility is during those mega moments; the Las Vegas Aces winning the no. 1 pick in next year’s draft in the draft lottery held between the night’s games, etc.). But the conversation each time would work its way back to Taurasi.

The single best quote: “I think at one point I drew on the box score—like, maybe the middle of the third quarter, I drew a broom and looked at Ryan and was like, ‘This series is gonna be a sweep.’ And then, oh yeah, you forget. No, it’s not, because Diana Taurasi’s on the other side. Even though they’re down 0-2 you, like, you can’t ever count a Diana Taurasi team out. She just is … magic.”

I brought up the Twitter DM from five days prior in which she pointed out that if something cool happened in one of the night’s two games Taurasi was going to be at the center of it, and told her it was the first thing I thought of as soon as the shot went in.

Her response: “I mean, she always is.”