A Decade of Diana: No. 8
By Ben York, PhoenixMercury.com
Posted: Feb. 21, 2013
In celebration of Diana Taurasi being named as the X-Factor’s Favorite Mercury Player of All-Time, and coinciding with the superstar entering her 10th year with the Mercury in 2013, PhoenixMercury.com has launched a special tribute series entitled, “A Decade of Diana.” Every Thursday starting Feb. 7 for 10 weeks, we’ll relive Taurasi’s 10 best moments with the team since her arrival in 2004.
Taurasi Moment No. 8: September 11, 2011
Bret Burchard is the Phoenix Mercury’s stat guru.
And with players like Diana Taurasi, following impending statistical achievements can be exciting, but also exceedingly stressful.
Case in point: September 11, 2011.
Diana Taurasi and Angel McCoughtry are in the midst of one of the most entertaining and closest races for the scoring crown in WNBA history.
The chase was significant for a few reasons.
Taurasi had won the award each of the three previous years (2010 – 22.6, 2009 – 20.4, 2008 – 24.1) and four of the past five. In 2011, Taurasi was averaging more than 20 points for the fifth time in her career and was shooting better than 44 percent from the field (her second-best shooting performance of her career).
Angel McCoughtry, at the time, was a rising star and had proven to be one of the most prolific scorers in the game (she and the Dream would eventually advance to the WNBA Finals in 2011). McCoughtry was averaging 24.1 points over her last 10 games, and briefly took the scoring lead with two 30-point performances in her previous four games.
Entering the final regular season game for both players, Taurasi was averaging 21.7 points per game to McCoughtry’s 21.3. Thus, McCoughtry needed to out-score Taurasi by 14 points to take over the No. 1 scoring spot.
For Taurasi and the Mercury, their last game of the regular season came against the Minnesota Lynx (the eventual 2011 WNBA Champions) at home in front of a US Airways Center crowd of nearly 13,000. Playoff positioning was already determined, so there really wasn’t much to gain with a win or loss for either team (Minnesota locked up the No. 1 seed while Phoenix was set as the No. 3 seed). After all, both coaches wanted their players to stay sharp and focused before their playoff journeys, but remaining healthy was far more important.
Meanwhile, Angel McCoughtry and the Atlanta Dream finished their regular season during halftime of the Mercury and Lynx game. McCoughtry made a push for the title by putting up 32 huge points in an impressive 93-88 road win against the Indiana Fever.
Bret and I were watching the Dream’s game closely to determine the minimum amount of points that Taurasi would need to score in the second half to come away with the coveted WNBA Peak Performer Award for leading the league in scoring. Bret did a few calculations at his seat on media row, and determined that Taurasi needed just seven points in the second half to stay on top.
Bret wasn’t about to put the pressure on Diana directly, so, in passing, he notified assistant coaches Julie Hairgrove and Bridget Pettis of how close the race was. They said they’d keep an eye on it, but it would depend on how the game was flowing as to whether they would keep Diana in the game or not; they certainly were not going to put Taurasi in a position to injure herself before the playoffs.
Needless to say, the scoring race was down to the wire.
And by “down to the wire,” I mean, literally, the latter half of the final quarter of the WNBA’s 2011 regular season.
Taurasi ended up securing her fifth scoring title in her (at that time) eight-year career when she made a 3-pointer with 6:15 left in the game. Gaines immediately subbed her out.
All the while, Taurasi had no idea how close the race was.
She just wanted to win.
In fact, at the end of the game, Bret handed Diana a small piece of paper with two numbers on it.
21.63 and 21.56
At first, Taurasi had no idea what the numbers meant (I can only imagine the look she gave Bret after reading them). It took her a few moments to figure out that they were scoring averages; Taurasi had beaten McCoughtry for the scoring title by less than one-tenth of a point.
Taurasi then gave Bret a hurried grin.
After all, not only did the Mercury lose the game, they had a playoff series against Seattle to prepare for in less than 48 hours. In Taurasi’s mind, this wasn’t a suitable time to focus on individual accomplishments.
A Decade of Diana
Visit PhoenixMercury.com on Thursday, Feb. 28 for the No. 7 moment in “A Decade of Diana.”