Team Effort Leads Mercury to 2009 Title
Posted: Oct. 9, 2009
Capturing her second WNBA title in the past three seasons, on Friday night, Mercury All-Star Diana Taurasi added the exclamation point to what has been one of the most successful seasons in league history.
After starting the game off slowly by scoring just two points in the opening quarter, “DT” got things going in the second quarter by beginning the period with a 3-point shot and a layup. The quick five points got the crowd back into the ballgame and quickly erased a 23-16 Fever first quarter. The game really appeared to turn in Phoenix’s favor when Taurasi’s 3-pointer from downtown gave the Mercury a 33-31 lead – their first since opening the game 2-0.
Most impressive was the fact that her mini-run came without All-Star Cappie Pondexter – the team’s leading scorer up until that point - who left midway through the second quarter with an eye injury that kept her out for the rest of the half. With Pondexter out of the contest, Taurasi did what all greats do and found a way to elevate her game to another level, scoring 13 points in the quarter. After that, the Mercury never looked back, capturing the 2009 WNBA Championship with a 94-86 victory in the decisive Game 5.
“She’s unbelievable,” forward Penny Taylor said of her teammate. “She came into this series pretty beat up but never complained. She just continued to work hard every time she was on the floor and that’s what has helped her become the great player she’s become.”
Already named the MVP of the regular season – her first time receiving the honor – Diana Taurasi was presented with the 2009 WNBA Finals MVP trophy, as well. But perhaps bigger than a campaign which has seen a regular season MVP, Finals MVP and All-WNBA First Team recognition, was her heroic performance Friday night.
“Obviously what Diana has done speaks for itself and nights like tonight are going to help her legacy grow and grow,” Mercury General Manager Ann Meyers Drysdale said. “This is what Diana has done since college; performed her best when she’s on the big stage. But I don’t want to take away from what this means to all of the players on this team. This marks the second title for a lot of them and they were key factors in why Phoenix has now been able to capture two WNBA titles.”
No surprise that Taurasi also deflected any attention on what the night’s accomplishment meant to her on a personal level, acknowledging that this championship is a triumph for every member of the Mercury family.
“It’s been a long season and for it to end like this is really special for all of us,” Taurasi told PhoenixMercury.com following Game 5. “Everybody put a little something into the pot and it ended up pretty good for us.”
Whether she chooses to acknowledge the individual accomplishments on her impressive resume or not, in just six seasons as a professional, the 27 year-old Taurasi now has earned a Rookie of the Year Award, regular season and WNBA Finals MVP awards, earned two Olympic gold medals, ed the league in scoring three times, been named an All-Star four times, earned All-WNBA First Team honors four-straight seasons and has just captured her second WNBA Championship.
One of the greats when she left an incredibly successful collegiate career behind her, it’s fitting that she donned “LifeLock” on her jersey this season – a company dedicated to securing identities – considering that Taurasi has taken a major step in securing her legacy as one of the game's top players.
Taurasi’s second title now ties her with Lisa Leslie in that department, but the sharpshooter knows she will have her work cut out for her if she hopes to catch Cynthia Cooper. During her career with the Houston Comets, Cooper captured four WNBA Championships between 1997 and 2000.
“This never gets old,” Taurasi said. “As long as we have this group together this isn’t anything I want to stop doing anytime soon. It really is amazing what happens when you bring together a group that goes out there and fights for each other and that’s really what it’s all about.”
PENNY FOR YOUR THOUGHTS
The 2009 WNBA title also marks the second for Penny Taylor, who returned to the Mercury ballclub after sitting out the entire 2008 campaign. Taylor began the 2009 campaign working her way back from an ankle injury and said following Game 5 that this was exactly what she envisioned upon announcing her return.
“This is what I was hoping for when I returned,” Taylor said citing the celebration in the locker room. “This is what you always hope for. This is why you play and put in all that work.
"This feeling is just unbelievable and I can’t explain how proud I am of this team. When things went bad we stuck together and when things weren’t going our way we worked harder and that’s what a championship team does.”
A starter on the 2007 team, when Taylor returned to the Mercury, she accepted a reserve position coming off the bench so she wouldn't not interfere with the first-place ballclub’s chemistry. Meyers Drysdale told PhoenixMercury.com that players like that are what help make for a championship ballclub.
“I can’t say enough about Penny or our trainer, Tamara Poole,” Meyers Drysdale said. “Tamara did a great job of working with Penny and helping to get her back to where she wanted to be following the ankle surgery.
“We knew with Penny it was going to take some time and it was tough for Corey (Gaines) and the coaching staff because in the beginning they had to hold her back a little and Penny is an incredibly tough player to hold back. Penny Taylor is a warrior and I think we saw that in Game 2 when she took that shot to the tooth and was ready to get right back out there.”
SOMETHING VENTURED, SOMETHING GAINED
When Mercury Head Coach Corey Gaines took over the bench following the team’s 2007 Championship and the departure of then-Head Coach Paul Westhead, it was not news to him that he was obtaining something special. What the coach did find surprising, however, was how much the little things matter.
“It’s amazing how fine a line it is between winning and losing,” the coach said.
With Westhead taking the organization to new grounds, Gaines had some big shoes to fill when taking over the run-and-gun reigns. But according to Mercury General Manager Ann Meyers Drysdale there was no doubt he was the right person for the job.
“Corey did an unbelievable job with this ballclub,” Meyers Drysdale said. “Working with DeWanna Bonner as a rookie and helping her accomplish what she did, working with two of the league’s most talented players and Penny’s return midseason are proof of why we didn’t have any doubts about what Corey would be able to do.”
A CHAMPIONSHIP RALLY WILL BE HELD FOR THE 2009 WNBA CHAMPIONS, THE PHOENIX MERCURY, ON MONDAY, OCT. 12 AT 6 P.M. IN THE CASINO ARIZONA PAVILION AT US AIRWAYS CENTER