Taurasi put on a show with 34 points, including seven three-pointers, as the Mercury edged the Washington Mystics, 88-87, in the WNBA bubble in Bradenton, Fla. Washington has lost nine of its past 10 games.
“We saw a vintage Diana Taurasi,” Mystics Coach and General Manager Mike Thibault said. “All of the tricks, some of which fooled some people. She got herself to the free throw line a bunch of times, but she also knocked down some big threes for them. I thought we did a good job on everybody else for the most part. It was one of those games that was there to win, but I think their experience paid off at the end — particularly Diana’s experience.”
Taurasi sported No. 8 in honor of Kobe Bryant as the WNBA honored the late NBA superstar on his birthday by putting his playing numbers of 8 and 24 on the court. Taurasi’s Mercury jersey featured Bryant’s No. 8 and his name.
Taurasi, 38, became the oldest player to score at least 34 points in a WNBA game. It also was her 48th career game with 30-plus points.
“I was really hesitant to wear the jersey today,” Taurasi said. “I was in my room, and I kept looking at it and looking at it. When you put his jersey on, you just want to make sure you honor it the right way. That’s all I was thinking about all game. What would Kobe do today? I know Kobe would have fought his ass off every minute. This is for him and his family.”
The Mystics had no answer for Taurasi as she took over in the fourth quarter. She hit back-to-back three-pointers to start a 12-2 run that gave the Mercury a seven-point lead that it never surrendered.
Myisha Hines-Allen had a layup blocked while taking contact with less than 10 seconds remaining that would have tied the score at 86. Instead, Bria Hartley went the other way for a layup that put the game away.
“We fought to the end,” said Mystics forward Tianna Hawkins, who had a season-high 19 points. “The biggest thing is we’ve got to continue to get better each game. I think we got better from last game. This game we got even better on the defensive end. We’ve just got to be able to execute on offense.”
Kia Vaughn scored 16 points for the Mercury and surpassed 2,000 for her career. Brianna Turner added nine points and 17 rebounds.
Thibault benched his veterans for passive play during an overtime loss to the Dallas Wings on Friday. Passing up open shots and lackluster defense were not issues Sunday.
The Mystics let the shots fly and played defense with purpose. Washington went 14 for 27 from behind the arc but shot just 41.6 percent from the field overall. Ariel Atkins finished with 18 points, and Leilani Mitchell and Stella Johnson scored 12 apiece. Hines-Allen managed just 10 points but added 13 rebounds and eight assists. The defense forced 16 turnovers but couldn’t stop Taurasi.
“Our offense was streaky,” Thibault said. “Thought we had a bad start to the third quarter. Thought there was no rhythm to anything. At times we did [play aggressively], but we got stuck with the ball on one side of the floor a bunch of times, too. Every day is a work in progress in that regard. When you shoot 41 or 42 percent, you’re not playing your best basketball. But this is what we’ve seen now for a few weeks — certainly without Aerial Powers and Emma [Meesseman], our two best offensive players.”
Meesseman missed her second straight game with a shoulder sprain.
Washington continues to fight an uphill battle with its injury-depleted roster, but the Mercury was missing a key player Sunday, too: Brittney Griner, who left the bubble for personal reasons. It is unclear whether she will return this season, and the Mercury did not share many details about her departure. Griner had led Phoenix at 17.7 points and 7.5 rebounds per game.