The 2017 WNBA season was a summer full of record-breaking performances. Not only were season milestones set, but all-time, career records were accomplished as the league’s history books were rewritten.
Two of the league’s most recognizable players, Diana Taurasi and Sue Bird, both etched their names atop career milestone mountaintops over the summer.
Taurasi was up first, setting the all-time scoring mark on June 18th when she drove the lane and laid in her 7,489th career point, breaking Tina Thompson’s previous career-high.
The bucket that made Diana Taurasi the all-time leading scorer in #WNBA history.
— WNBA (@WNBA) June 18, 2017
Just two months later her fellow UCONN alum and Olympic teammate, Sue Bird, followed suit by breaking the all-time assists record previously held by Ticha Penicheiro. Bird dished out her 2,600 career assist late in the 1st quarter against Mystics in the Storm’s second to final contest of the 2017 season.
— WNBA (@WNBA) September 2, 2017
Bird and Taurasi are two key pillars in the foundation of what’s made the WNBA successful over it’s now 21-year run as a professional basketball league.
Bird was selected by Seattle with the first overall pick in 2002 after leading the University of Connecticut to two National Championships and was a pioneer of the powerhouse we know as the Huskies today.
She has gone on to have even greater success in the WNBA, playing all 15 of her professional seasons in Seattle. Two WNBA titles, ten All-Star selections, leading the league in assists in three seasons and being named as one of the top 20 players of all-time during the league’s 20th season celebration last year are just some of the accolades she’s racked up over the years.
Diana Taurasi’s path to the pros and WNBA career almost mirrors that of Bird. She too was selected first overall out of the University of Connecticut where she won multiple National Championships and has spent the duration of her career with one franchise, the Phoenix Mercury. Where Bird excels in setting her teammates up for success, Taurasi is a prolific scorer who can shoot from anywhere and everywhere on the floor. She’s a three-time WNBA champion, eight-time All-Star and five-time league scoring leader.
Now, these two titans of the game will meet in the postseason for the fourth time in their illustrious careers.
The two first squared-off in 2007 in the Western Conference semifinals. Bird already had a title to her name, while both were All-Star selections who were quickly becoming, not only household names, but faces of their respective franchises.
Taurasi would get the better of Bird in their first clash as the Mercury swept Seattle 2-0 en route to their first championship as a franchise, and the first of three for Diana. DT’s 22 points in the first game would prove to be the catalyst behind a dominant Mercury performance.
The next postseason jostle would come in 2010, this time with a trip to the WNBA Finals on the line. Proceedings would go much differently for Seattle this time around as they would be the ones doing the sweeping. Bird and the the Storm defeated the Mercury 2-0 and eventually hoisted the WNBA championship, the second of Sue’s career.
Just as Taurasi excelled in the first matchup, Bird would leave an indelible mark on this series. She hit the game-winning bucket, a three-pointer in the waning seconds of game two, to take down Taurasi and the then-defending champion Mercury. It erased a 19-point Storm deficit and lives on as one of the most clutch buckets in WNBA history.
The third and final time Bird and DT met in the postseason – prior to this year’s duel – would once again happen in the Western Conference semifinals. This time neither team would sweep the other and the series would come down to a winner-take-all third game.
Bird poured in a game-high 22 points in the contest in front of a raucous KeyArena in Seattle, but it wouldn’t be enough as Taurasi’s Mercury would come away with a 77-75 victory.
Now, the fourth installment of this epic matchup is set for an even more pressurized scenario on Wednesday. Neither Bird or Taurasi will have a three-game series to figure out each other’s respective squad.
Under the WNBA’s new playoff format, Wednesday is a one-game, single-elimination situation, giving the teams a mere four quarters to either keep their city’s championship hopes alive or send them home packing for the winter.
Neither Bird nor Taurasi has ever been satisfied with second place. There be smiles and hugs pregame, but once the ball is tipped it will be a four quarter dash for another accolade to their name.
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