Diana Taurasi is a modern basketball genius playing decades ahead her time, at a level nobody 36 years old has any right to play. We lie and say, This is Diana Taurasi. Of course she’s this good. But in reality, no, she’s not supposed to play like this anymore.
She’s been otherworldly in her 14th WNBA season , even by the standards set by the greatest scorer the WNBA has ever seen. Her 26 points on 15 shots, with 12 assists to ZERO turnovers in a single-elimination blowout win over the Dallas Wings to open the playoffs, show exactly what we mean. She then dropped 27 points on the road in another elimination game two nights later against the higher seeded Sun.
Earlier this week, Taurasi toyed with a young Wings team. No-look pass after no-look pass intensified as time went on, and bordered on rude by the third quarter. She stared defenders down, dished to shooters, and hardly bother to look if the bucket swished at one point. The game was too easy for her.
She outsmarted and outran younger legs for an entire 40 minutes. She took the breath out of Wings fans’ lungs by negating each Dallas run, and she did so without exhausting much energy or reveling in a moment few could ever mimic.
It happened often.
Remarkably, Taurasi’s age-36 season has been one of her best ever. She’s the reason why the Mercury are the most dangerous low-seed in play.
Nobody shoots as frequently, willingly or accurately as Taurasi off the dribble
Taurasi’s gravity is felt every time she touches the ball. The defense has to close out in fear of her cold blood activating and initiating launch mode, but not too close or she’ll blow by and bring her 93 percent free-throw shooting hands to the line.
You could double-team her, but then the eyes on her face, behind her ears and underneath her bun open and Brittney Griner’s given a layup or DeWanna Bonner swishes one from deep. There’s no good way to guard Taurasi.
Taurasi knows this, too. She sizes up whoever dare steps in front of her and reads how she’ll do the inevitable — get the ball in the dang basket.
This season has been so different from her other sublime efforts because she’s taken matters into her own hands far more often. She set a career high in the regular season in launching 61 percent of her shots from three-point range. That’s confidence.
She’s maintained her consistency, making 38 percent of those shots, which explains why her point total (20.7 points per game) and shooting efficiency (an effective field goal percentage of 56.3) were also through the roof. Even as Taurasi’s aged, she hasn’t lost her touch or the speed of her release.
It takes fractions of a second for this to happen.
Taurasi’s seeing the floor as well as ever, too
The most satisfying outcome for fans watching Taurasi is when a 25-footer hits the bottom of the net, but second to that is a crisp drop-off pass to a cutter. Nobody does it like the Mercury legend.
With a confidence that never dies, Taurasi can toss the rock anywhere she pleases no matter what her eyes are actually watching. It’s taken Griner some time even, but now she knows to always expect a pass if she’s in the paint.
The forwards on the bench have come to the same understanding. If Taurasi’s shot isn’t there for herself, her mind goes into hyper-speed and she knows someone else has a look. There’s a bucket to be had even if she’s not getting it for herself.
With Taurasi at the top of her game, the Mercury are a championship threat
The WNBA’s as wide open as it’s ever been. The defending champion Minnesota Lynx are gone after round one, which hasn’t happened to them before. Aside from the Seattle Storm, the other five teams left in the playoffs finished within four games of each other in the regular season.
Taurasi hasn’t won a WNBA title since 2014, falling short due to the superteam Lynx and Los Angeles Sparks. But the Lynx are out, and the Sparks are underdogs in their single-elimination game against the No. 3-seeded Mystics.
The No. 5 Mercury knocking off the No. 4 Connecticut Sun at 8:30 p.m. ET on ESPN2 would hardly be a shock. They did so last year without Bonner and with Taurasi not playing at this level. Win that matchup, and they will play either the young Storm or overachieving Atlanta Dream, who are without injured All-Star Angel McCoughtry.
Taurasi, Griner and Bonner are among the best trios in the league, if not the very best. The leader of that pack is as good as ever.