Her first game in five weeks and her first since her 39th birthday, Phoenix Mercury’s guardian Diana Taurasi once again proved how special she is on Sunday.
The WNBA career leader scored 11 of her 25 points in the third quarter, helping to open a close game against the Los Angeles Sparks at the Phoenix Suns Arena.
The Mercury won 88-79, beating the Sparks for a second straight time and taking a playoff tiebreaker lead ahead of their 25-year-old rivals.
Taurasi, who played for the first time since May 21 due to a broken sternum five days earlier, showed little rust in 32 minutes. He made 6 out of 11 total, 4 out of 8 out of 3 and made his nine free throws plus three rebounds and three assists. He even led the crowd in a Suns in 5 chants after the game.
Brittney Griner and Skylar Diggins-Smith added 22 and 16 for the Mercury (7-7). She and Taurasi were named to the United States Olympic team on Monday.
Mercury improved to 2-5 at home by winning the Commissioner’s Cup.
The Sparks fell to 6-8 with just a few hands.
The Mercurys were leading by four at halftime but were drawn by 47 points early in the third quarter as they completed a 16-4 run that included a long layup from Taurasi on a streak from Brianna Turner.
Taurasi topped the run with a triple at 2:25, then hit two 3’s in the last minute of the quarter for a 69-55 lead.
The Mercury extended its lead to 78:57 in the fourth quarter at 6:49 a.m., and drew the biggest crowd of the season, including Suns players Chris Paul and Langston Galloway Game. Capacity constraints.
Mercury, who had been on an eight-day hiatus, had an easier time playing against the Sparks in Game 3 than in Los Angeles, even as the game tightened towards the end of the quarter.
The Sparks won the first game 85-80 on June 16 and the Mercury won the next 80-66 on June 18.
Taurasi surpassed his 9,000 career points on a driving layout with 8:23 remainder in the second quarter and then played a three-point game to make up a 29:26 deficit.
The Mercury was then several times by four points ahead of Sparks at 40 with 1:29 by halftime.
After a break, Mercury met Griner on a Diggins-Smith connection to Taurasi, started a 7-0 run and led 47:43 at halftime.
Griner had 16 points in the first half and Taurasi 12, with Turner taking 11 rebounds.
The Sparks started Karlie Samuelson in the absence of Kristi Toliver with an eye injury. Nneka and Chiney Ogwumike are also absent, both due to knee injuries.