WNBA fans, who have been without the likes of Sue Bird, Maya Moore and Breanna Stewart this season, were treated to the return of future Hall of Famer Diana Taurasi on Sunday. The Phoenix Mercury guard underwent back surgery this spring, then prematurely returned for 16 minutes on July 12 at Connecticut, only to be sent back to the injured list. She scored five points in the July game at the Sun. Cleared to play for the Aug. 20 game in Las Vegas, she was forced to serve a one-game suspension for leaving the bench during the altercation on Aug. 10 with Dallas.
Taurasi started the game versus the Chicago Sky on Sunday at Talking Stick Resort Arena, and was greeted with loud ovations, both during her introduction and when she scored her first basket. The Sky used a 28-15 third quarter to run away from Phoenix, 94-86, but the WNBA’s career scoring leader expressed that the game was another step in the right direction.
“It’s great to be back on the court after such a long layoff,” Taurasi said afterwards. “I felt a lot better than I thought I would, after being off for seven months. I try to do every little thing I can. I felt pretty good physically, but timing-wise, things that come second nature, I was hesitant on some things, but it’s a good start individually for me. We put out the best side out there in order to win this game and the next six. It’s one thing to be back on the court, and not feel yourself, but the things that I usually am able to do. I was missing the same shots I usually hit, two or three of them. That’s life, you go through the ups and downs.”
Taurasi scored 12 points with four assists in 22 minutes on Sunday, although she was 2-of-13 from the floor and 0-of- 6 from downtown.
“To extend it (her playing time) any more than that would have been foolish,” Taurasi said, “and being patient is still the No. 1 thing for me. When I came out, I didn’t even break a sweat. The most five effective people need to be on the court, no matter who they are.”
“She didn’t shoot the ball well today, but she had some good looks,” Mercury coach Sandy Brondello added. “She just needs to get her legs under her. Once she gets her legs under her, we’ll be in good shape. It’s just relearning how to play with each other again. She reads things before they happen. She’s one of the best passers ever, she has great court vision. She knows when to get other people involved, and she’s a leader.”
The shooting performance wasn’t one for the vintage Taurasi highlight reel, but the more she experiences game situations, her trademark shots will fall.
Taurasi rejoins a team that has the WNBA’s two leading scorers, Brittney Griner and DeWanna Bonner, both averaging just under 20 points per game. Griner scored a season-best 34 points in the loss to the Sky.
“I don’t think I’ve seen someone so dominant,” Taurasi said of Griner. “I don’t know why I don’t hear of anyone talking about her being the MVP, or the best player in the world. She’s literally unstoppable. The only way you can stop her is to put three people on her. We all work on different places on the court, so we are never in each other’s way.”
The Mercury (13-15) finishes the regular season with three road games, then three home games, and is currently holding onto the eighth and final playoff spot in the WNBA by a four-game margin.