Commentary

Taurasi, Mercury pull out win

But Phoenix must play sharper than it did Monday with Candace Parker, Sparks in wings

Originally Published: September 21, 2009
By Mechelle Voepel | Special to ESPN.com

There's a condition called "super memory" that is not necessarily as cool as it might sound: People seem to remember everything that they ever experienced or knew about. And they can do so in minute and photographic detail.

So, for example, 40 years after the fact, a person might remember the code to open her seventh-grade locker, her locker partner's phone number and what day of the week they first met.

[+] EnlargeVickie Johnson
Barry Gossage/NBAE/Getty ImagesThe league's all-time leader in games and minutes played, Vickie Johnson played her final game Monday, retiring after 13 seasons.

This might all seem handy, but not being able to forget anything actually can be quite burdensome. Imagine, for instance, if you were a super-memory person who regularly had to guard Diana Taurasi.

"There was the time she scored 29 against us three years ago … the first basket, she drove past me for a left-handed layup. The second, she pulled up for a 3-pointer from the left baseline. The third, she went in on the right side on a give-and-go, and the ball bounced twice on the rim before going in. On the fourth …"

Really, it could drive you utterly crazy.

Uh, actually, you don't even need to have super memory for it to make you nuts. Just ask those who've tried to stop Taurasi -- the league's leading scorer this season -- over the years.

On Monday night, the Phoenix Mercury needed her to be the big-time Taurasi, the headliner, the magician who always fools the audience no matter how intensely folks watch for the sleight of hand.

And she did it, leading the Mercury past the San Antonio Silver Stars 100-92 in the clinching game of a best-of-three first-round series that nearly got away from Phoenix.

Thanks mostly to Taurasi's 30 points, six assists, five rebounds and her more energetic defensive presence than in seasons past, the Mercury held off the only team in the playoffs that had a losing record in the regular season.

But it took until the fourth quarter for Phoenix to really look like the team that was the West's top seed and owner of the best record this season. In the last period, the Mercury outscored the Silver Stars 34-23, with Taurasi getting 10 of those points.

It was a tough ending for San Antonio, which has been good enough to be an exciting playoff team the last three seasons -- but not good enough to win a title. The ultimate pro, Vickie Johnson, went out in the classic blaze of glory with 24 points on 9-of-12 shooting and six rebounds.

Becky Hammon, Johnson's longtime teammate (first with New York and then with San Antonio), hit six 3-pointers on the way to 29 points. After getting blown out 106-78 Saturday, the Silver Stars made Phoenix and its fans sweat right until the end Monday.

At age 37, VJ is stepping away from playing the game without having won a WNBA championship. But Silver Stars coach Dan Hughes said that she had the kind of final game that every athlete would want, win or lose.

"To see her play the way she did tonight -- that's the way I wanted to see her career end," he said. "She looked like she was 23 years old on the court tonight."

Diana Taurasi
Barry Gossage/NBAE/Getty ImagesDiana Taurasi scored 10 points in the pivotal fourth period in Monday's 100-92 series-clinching victory.

Indeed, on this night, VJ put her aching body through the grind one more time, and she turned back the clock. Problem is, there was no turning back Taurasi.

"The wheels were falling off; we were riding on one wheel," Taurasi said afterward of how the Mercury felt down by three points heading into the fourth quarter. "And we had to find a way to get that momentum back and get back to what we were doing so well in Game 2."

What Phoenix did was capitalize on the Silver Stars' turnovers and run the offense just the way it is supposed to. Veteran Tangela Smith had 16 points and eight rebounds; her understudy, DeWanna Bonner, had 11 and six. Cappie Pondexter struggled (4-of-15 shooting) but still had 17 points. Penny Taylor scored 11.

Phoenix coach Corey Gaines said he reached a stage in this game when he told his players to forget running specific plays. Rather, he just wanted them to attack, attack, attack. It was a strategy that worked, because ultimately the Mercury did make enough shots. Not exactly the most complicated game plan, but that's just it: When you have the kind of offensive skill that the Mercury have, you don't need to overthink it.

That said, San Antonio almost made the Mercury do just that in this series. Now, the Silver Stars look toward next year, having to replace VJ and figure out what else they can do to try to get closer to winning a championship.

Meanwhile, Phoenix moves a stop closer to the franchise's second title … but only a step. That's because Los Angeles awaits, and this is the matchup that highlights the best of the league.

Phoenix beat L.A. 3-1 in their series this summer, but that win for the Sparks came on the last day of the regular season when Taurasi rested the whole game. She won't be doing any of that in this upcoming series.

And it kind of gives us the closest we've had to UConn versus Tennessee since coach Pat Summitt pulled the plug on that series in 2007: UConn alums Taurasi and Ketia Swanier for Phoenix against L.A.'s Candace Parker and Shannon Bobbitt of Tennessee.

OK … really, this headline is more concise: "DT3 vs. CP3: Showdown."

And when it comes to "super memories," UConn and Tennessee fans certainly tend to have them about their teams' successes.

The Bluebloods are still seething about the series ending. The Orangebloods tend to answer with a hilariously feigned, "Really? It was that big of a deal to you guys? You know, we just have so many rivals…"

Yeah, this could be an unforgettable Western Conference finals.

Mechelle Voepel, a regular contributor to ESPN.com, can be reached at mvoepel123@yahoo.com. Read her blog at http://voepel.wordpress.com.

Mechelle Voepel joined ESPN.com in 1996 and covers women's college hoops, the WNBA, the LPGA, and additional collegiate sports for espnW.

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