Taurasi adds title, Finals MVP honor
PHOENIX -- Diana Taurasi appears in a video that plays on the scoreboard at US Airways Arena before Mercury games, and in it she's emitting what you might call a primal scream.
Eyes closed, head back, she belts it out. It might not be the vocal-cord-buster that Janis Joplin did near the end of "Piece of My Heart." But there's still a lot of emotion in this yell, choreographed as it is.
The screams suggest that the competitive will we see so vividly from Taurasi on the outside burns even hotter on the inside.
On Friday night, Taurasi won her second WNBA title, and she can now put it alongside three NCAA championships and two Olympic gold medals. At age 27, she is on course to become the biggest winner in women's basketball history.
"I never want to give it back," Taurasi said of having her hands on the WNBA championship trophy again.
The Mercury were not able to follow up on their 2007 title last year, in part because Penny Taylor did not play in 2008. So as outstanding a player as she is, Taurasi knows that she can't and never will win a championship all by herself.
"Whether you play 40 minutes or zero minutes, it is a team effort, a collective group," Taurasi said after the Mercury's 94-86 victory clinched the title.
Still, Taylor said of Taurasi, "She's an amazing player, and when you have her on your team, you always know you have a chance to win every game. She plays with the team and for the team, but at the end of the day, she's the person that we go to. And she pulled through for us tonight."
Taurasi, who received her regular-season MVP award Sept. 29, the day the WNBA Finals started, got another honor Friday. She was named the Finals MVP after a game in which she had 26 points, six rebounds, four assists and three blocked shots.
She had struggled with her shooting during this Finals, but Friday was 7-of-15 from the field, including 4-for-7 from long range. She hit all eight of her free-throw attempts.
Phoenix coach Corey Gaines said it took tinkering for the Mercury to combat Indiana's defense, but that had been accomplished by the last two games of the series.
"Indiana's defense, the first couple of games, was predicated on stopping us from using our pick-and-rolls," Gaines said. "And it took me a while to figure out. I took a step back and said, 'Use what they are doing against them.'
"I took the pick-and-roll to the middle of the floor, and we eliminated their defense. And it helped Diana tremendously."
[Diana Taurasi] is an amazing player and when you have her on your team, you always know you have a chance to win every game. She plays with the team and for the team, but at the end of the day, she's the person that we go to. And she pulled through for us tonight.” -- Phoenix's Penny Taylor
Not that Taurasi was doing poorly, really, at any time in the series. After all, she finished with 22, 20, 18, 16 and 26 points in the five games of the Finals and led a defensive effort that deserves accolades, too. But with Taurasi, the standards are always higher than for most everyone else.
"You know, it had been a tough series," she said. "But you just can't get frustrated. You can't always play as well as you want. You can't always make every shot.
"One thing I told myself is there is no reason to get frustrated. You've just got to go out there and put in the effort and play hard, and things eventually will turn for you."
Of course, it has not been a "normal" season for Taurasi, even if the result was yet another championship. Her DUI arrest in July brought negative publicity to her and the league, and she acknowledged that it has changed her in some ways.
"It has been a humbling summer," Taurasi said. "The last month has been an incredible high, from the MVP to the championship. But rewind 2½ months ago, and I was probably as low as I can get. I'm the type of person that wakes up every day happy. [But] it was tough to wake up happy every day for a couple of weeks.
"Then I used it to make myself better in areas you guys will never understand, because it's very private. But everything happens for a reason. If you use it the right way, it can be an advantage in life. That's what I tried to do."
The situation is not over; in fact, the penalty phase is forthcoming. Taurasi's hearing received postponements until later this month, and jail time is a possibility in such cases. But she has not shied from talking about how she needed to take responsibility for what happened and change her life accordingly.
Taurasi said she deeply regretted embarrassing the Mercury franchise, but her commitment to doing whatever she could to make up for that was never in doubt. Including how she led the team throughout this season.
"I don't walk into the locker room and proclaim myself to be the leader of the team," she said. "I just do it by example, by being in the gym as much as possible, by encouraging people and treating them as I wanted to be treated."
Taurasi worked with a personal trainer in Russia after being disappointed by the Mercury not making the 2008 playoffs. She committed to getting into the best shape possible, and it's part of her overall plan to try to win as many titles as possible.
"There is still a long ways to go," she said, fresh from one more triumph. "Still a long way to mature and get better in different areas. If you still love walking in the gym, then you'll be OK."
Or, as has been the case for Taurasi on a national stage since her days at UConn, a lot more than just OK. For all she has won, a whole lot looks to remain in her grasp.
Mechelle Voepel, a regular contributor to ESPN.com, can be reached at email@example.com. Read her blog at http://voepel.wordpress.com.
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