The first thing Diana Taurusi and Penny Taylor did when they stepped out on to the Garden floor, before beating the Liberty 104-97, was hug legendary Liberty associate head coach Katie Smith, who they had played with and against for years. It was a live representation of how long these women have been together and how close they are.
“We’re a family, number one,” Mercury head coach Sandy Brondello said after her two superstars chopped it up with the opposition. “Every team says that, but we’re like that.”
Every team hasn’t had its core together for six seasons and two titles, though. Turnover in the 12-team WNBA is common. Most players don’t stay with the same squad for a long time, which is what makes what Phoenix has done truly special.
Since Taurasi’s first season in ’04, the Merc have won three chips—2007, 2009 and 2014. She and Taylor are the only ones to be around for all three of them.
That ’09 win included a rookie-year DeWanna Bonner, averaging 8 points and 4 rebounds during Phoenix’s playoff run. Bonner has evolved into one of the W’s most lethal weapons. At 6-4, she can handle, pass, come off screens and create her own shot. She patrols passing lanes and hits the glass, too. She’s now second in scoring and rebounding for the Mercury.
“We have a damn good starting five,” 10-year vet Candice Dupree said. Dupree was the fourth member of the current starting five to come to Phoenix, and by far the chillest member of that group. With Taurusi and Bonner’s all-world trash talking skills, Taylor’s worldwide fame and Brittney Griner’s other-worldly presence (more on BG coming up), Dupree consistently takes a backseat, often being forgotten about by the defense. But she’s the guiding light that steers the whole ship.
Though it’s impossible to measure everything Dupree does on the court (‘And the awards for best Screen Setter and best Box Out Technique go to… Candice Dupree!’), her IQ is clear after watching her play for a second. She smoothly glides around the court, finding open spots for duck-ins and O-boards. She directs traffic from the backline. Even though Bonner has three inches on her, Dupree plays the 4. Plus she has a mid-range game that looks like Karl Malone.
“These days, we’re feeling pretty good,” Dupree said. “We got the tallest player in the league on our team, the best player in the world, one of the other top players in Penny, and DB has been playing her butt off.”
The tallest player in the league came to them with the No. 1 draft pick back in 2013. At 6-8, 200 pounds, Brittney Griner is the most physically imposing player in the W. And she knows it. During the game against the Liberty, she bullied Carolyn Swords on the block. She swallowed up two shots. She attacked the rim, daring a New York defender to stop her.
In her ear the whole game is Taurusi. The 34-year-old constantly high-fives Griner, encourages and yells at her. Each member of the Mercury’s core five is important, but Taurasi is still the face of this franchise and its best player.
“Taurasi is a very clutch player,” Liberty head coach Bill Laimbeer said after the game. “She’s tall, she’s big and strong and she’s smart.”
And she loves to play the villain. Once the fourth quarter and overtime come, Taurasi is the one to stick the knife in the Liberty with big shots, time and again. D doesn’t only talk to Griner the whole game. Nah, she talks to everyone. She barks at the refs and talks shit to Sugar Rodgers. She smiles at injured Liberty guard Epiphanny Prince, who sits in the stands. She argues with with a teammate at least once a quarter.
The youngest member of the starting five is Griner, 25, who has played in pressure packed situations her whole life, as the team’s best player. But she isn’t the Mercury’s best player. And neither is the 28-year-old Bonner, the 31-year-old Dupree, or the 35-year-old Taylor. Taurasi, 12 years into her Hall of Fame career, will be the one to take this wildly experienced group as far as possible.
The playoffs will be a formality for the Mercury, who stand at 6-9. In a season where two teams have set new records for wins, Breanna Stewart is dominating headlines and the league is celebrating 20 seasons, the Phoenix Mercury just continue to plug away, under the radar, as the best team.
“Early in the season, we didn’t necessarily show that but we’re getting things rolling now,” Dupree said. “Things are falling into place and we’re feeling good.”
Do you feel any pressure to get things turned around quickly?
“Pressure? Nah, no pressure.”