Phoenix Mercury Season Ends With Loss And Questions

PHOENIX – When the Phoenix Mercury attempted a snare in a season that ended in disappointment against the Chicago Sky in the WNBA Finals, the Sky cast some shadows their way and the WNBA had another surprise in store: a $$ fine. 10,000.

The Mercury hoped to return home with a chance to play one more game in the WNBA Finals, keep their hopes for a fourth league championship alive, and perhaps extend the career of their star, Diana Taurasi.

Instead, they came back on Tuesday to find out that the WNBA had imposed what is reportedly the largest fine ever issued by the WNBA for a media violation, and they are entering a low season of uncertainty over the 39-year-old’s future.

The WNBA issued the fine because Mercury players refused to talk to reporters after their Game 4 loss to the Sky that ended their season. Competition rules require teams to make at least two players available to the media.

“We just had to take our time, and we did,” Taurasi said during exit interviews with the team on Monday. “The magic slipped from our hands pretty quickly and reality hit, and we were a pretty devastated team.”

Meanwhile, the Sky celebrated their championship in Chicago by showing a broken door during their “Skytown Championship Rally” Tuesday. The team’s official Twitter account posted a photo of the door broken by Taurasi at Wintrust Arena after Chicago knocked out Phoenix in Game 4, according to a report by Alex Simon of The Next.

As Taurasi put it, the magic quickly escaped the Mercury. They led by a whopping 14 and gave up an 11-point lead in the fourth quarter. So the collapse explains Taurasi’s frustration, and she didn’t deny breaking the door during Monday’s exit session. However, she confirmed one thing.

“There were a lot of doors there,” Taurasi said.

The mahogany door with a hefty crack in the center stood on the podium, displayed behind a disc jockey as the Sky paraded through Chicago, ending with a rally where they hung the championship trophy.

Taurasi came out ahead in Game 4, picking up a technical foul within the first five minutes before barking at the referee to whistle. Then she got a push match with Chicago’s Kahleah Copper, where the eventual MVP of the final picked one herself.

That exchange came after Taurasi was fined $2,500 for pushing an umpire in Game 2, a violation that could have resulted in a suspension.

It is possible that these are the last impressions Taurasi, who turns 40 in June, will leave on the field. The league’s all-time top goalscorer said she will spend the next eight months reflecting on her decision to retire.

“I feel like I’ve been at it for a while,” she said. “If you have a lot of time to think about basketball in the future, a lot of thoughts will go through your head, but we’ll see where it goes.”

Diana Taurasi of Phoenix Mercury, right, hugging Candace Parker of the Chicago Sky after Game Four of the WNBA Finals. The loss of the Mercury was one of many storylines that sparked national debate. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

Taurasi missed half of the regular season with injuries to her sternum, ankle, hip and foot.

Despite this, Mercury coach Sandy Brondello said she believes the 17-year veteran certainly has enough left to return.

“I will support Diana whatever she chooses, but I think she definitely has another year,” Brondello said. “She was not 100% healthy. Her ability to get out there and perform as she did will hopefully motivate her to go for another year.”

In 2020, Taurasi signed a two-year contract that was set to expire after next season, and her team-mates are hoping she’ll turn it back at least one more time with a healthier group.

“We don’t want to see Dee go,” said Mercury center Brittney Griner. “I haven’t heard anything, so I’m planning to see her there, clubbing, on center court when it’s time to start training camp. But with the core of this team. . . it’s strong. It’s a good core.”

Taurasi’s backcourt-mate Skylar Diggins-Smith said she and the team would be delighted to have Taurasi back.

“Yeah, me and everyone else,” Diggins-Smith said.

The Mercury’s Skylar Diggins-Smith reacts after a foul against Chicago, but her appearance also reflects the team’s mood after a season-ending defeat to the Sky. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

Diggins-Smith joined the team in 2019 hoping to win a championship with Taurasi.

“I learned a lot from her,” Diggins-Smith said. “I really felt like this was my coming-of-age year. I was really able to turn the corner, and it was a big part of my maturing process and being able to touch the final.

“She has the blueprint and has really given me the blueprint of what it takes to get there. Whatever she decides to do, she has nothing to prove.”

The Mercury and Taurasi proved resilient. Haunted by injuries, they needed a wave after the break from the 2020 Tokyo Olympics to get into the playoffs and came in as the No. 5 seed. Phoenix played two single-elimination playoff games, beating No. 3 Las Vegas in a winner-take-all Game 5 to reach the final.

Taurasi said she really enjoyed playing on the Mercury team this year.

“I’ve never seen a team fight so hard,” said the three-time WNBA champion. “Obviously I’ve been on a lot of really good teams, I’ve been on some OK teams, but this team had incredible grit.”

Diggins-Smith said there is no doubt about Taurasi’s ability to keep playing if she chooses to. She even joked that she would like to see two more years of her teammate.

“Whatever she decides, there’s no questioning ability or anything like that,” Diggins-Smith said. “It’s just a decision she has to make for herself, and I support her no matter what.

Taurasi was observant when a reporter asked about her legacy in the game.

“I leave it all on the field,” Taurasi said. “Whether I’m 21 or 39, if you like the game and like to compete, just leave it out there.”

And it could just be all Outside.

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