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2021 WNBA Finals – Why the Phoenix Mercury’s Diana Taurasi could be nearer to retiring than you assume

PHOENIX — Diana Taurasi‘s to-do listing is not full but.

Virtually, maybe. Shut, perhaps. However not fairly but.

The Phoenix Mercury‘s 39-year-old star guard crossed one crucial aim off that listing this summer season when she gained her record fifth gold medal on the Tokyo Olympics. That pursuit had consumed her for the previous few years.

Now that it is now not her central focus, what’s driving Taurasi? One other WNBA championship.

Taurasi’s spouse and former teammate, Penny Taylor, advised ESPN that Taurasi has spent her 17 years within the WNBA with one, singular motivation: championships. The titles they gained collectively in 2007, 2009 and 2014 aren’t sufficient for Taurasi, Taylor stated.

“She does not care about something apart from [championships],” Taylor stated. “World championships, the Olympics, WNBA, wherever she performed in Europe. I imply, that is all there’s to her. Not MVP, not scoring titles, or information or something.

“It is solely ever been about championships.”

Taurasi will proceed that trek for a fourth title Sunday (Three p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN App) in opposition to the Chicago Sky in Recreation 1 of the 2021 WNBA Finals, the Mercury’s first look within the championship sequence since 2014. If the Mercury can get Taurasi her fourth ring, what could be subsequent?

Maybe the top. Not less than one individual near Taurasi instructed she could be able to stroll away from the sport.

Over the previous couple of years, Taurasi had a brief listing of targets, her sister, Jess Skillern, advised ESPN. First was that fifth Olympic gold medal.

Second was, nicely, every thing else.

Atop that subsequent tier of targets sat a WNBA championship, however few noticed the fifth-seeded Mercury’s run to the Finals coming. Within the meantime, different components got here into play. Skillern pointed to Taurasi’s age and rising household. Taylor gave birth to their second youngster, a woman (older brother Leo is 3), on Saturday morning — simply hours after Taurasi scored 14 fourth-quarter points to assist Phoenix clinch its fifth journey to the WNBA Finals.

Taurasi has stated she does not consider within the notion that age needs to be a deterrent. Privately, nevertheless, Taurasi had begun dealing with her basketball mortality in recent times, beginning when she had again surgical procedure in 2019, Skillern stated.

“She does not need to be 50 and never be capable to stroll proper straight up,” Skillern stated in July. “She’s not going to depart a damaged physique on the court docket and she or he’s additionally not gonna go away the sport not enjoying at her very, easiest. These two issues are usually not going to occur. So she’s very conscious of there’s only some extra summers left, and ‘I am type of taking it day-by-day’ so far as her profession.”

Taurasi has one yr remaining on her WNBA contract. Skillern stated Taurasi’s well being will greater than probably be the deciding think about whether or not she performs the ultimate yr of her contract — or past.

“She is aware of that retiring is within the close to future, however so long as she’s nonetheless wholesome and her physique can deal with it, and she or he’s nonetheless giving good performances, she’s nonetheless enjoying at her potential, she’ll nonetheless be there,” Skillern stated. “However as soon as her physique is telling her it is time, she’ll make the smart move.”

Taurasi was restricted to 16 regular-season video games as she handled a hip damage and a fractured sternum earlier within the season, and is now coping with a sprained ankle and foot damage she suffered two weeks earlier than the playoffs began.

UConn coach Geno Auriemma, who coached Taurasi in school and on Workforce USA, stated he would not have been stunned if Taurasi’s accidents had led her to retire a few years in the past. After teaching Taurasi and Sue Fowl, who turns 41 this month, on the nationwide staff for eight years, Auriemma heard lots about how exhausting the rehab could be earlier than and through the season.

“It is a full-time job,” he stated earlier than the Olympics. “It wears on you and there is too many days, I feel, the place they get up and say, ‘I do not need to do that anymore. I nonetheless need to play however I do not need to do that anymore.'”

Taurasi has been a strolling dichotomy this postseason.

She has been battered and bruised, generally to the purpose of limping and grimacing all through video games, however she scored a playoff-career-high 37 factors in Recreation 2 of the semifinals — changing into the oldest participant to document a 30-point recreation (regular-season or postseason) in league historical past — and hit clutch shot after clutch shot to pull the Mercury to the brink of one other championship.

Taurasi remains to be making an attempt to show she will do it, at a excessive stage, at this age, with all of her accidents. And that is how she has all the time been.

“She consistently needs to show herself,” Fowl advised ESPN.

This yr has been a — maybe the — measuring stick for Taurasi, Skillern stated, particularly for the reason that Olympics.

“I do not know what she’s considering [about retirement]. I feel she’s nonetheless received a little bit bit extra, one other yr or two in her,” Mercury coach Sandy Brondello advised ESPN on Saturday. “But when she will do this, win the Olympic gold medal and WNBA championships, it does not matter how previous you’re. That will probably be an enormous achievement.”

And it might assist determine Taurasi’s future.

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