Diana Taurasi showcased her leadership in the Phoenix Mercury's nail-biting 83-80 victory over the Washington Mystics Thursday. After a disappointing performance in the previous game against the Las Vegas Aces, where she managed only nine points on 3-of-13 shooting, Taurasi rebounded with a team-high 20 points, shared with Kahleah Copper, shooting 7-for-13 from the field and 2-for-7 from beyond the arc.

“That was personally not my best game, but we won and sometimes you have to do other things to make sure your team gets over the line,” Taurasi said, per Jenna Ortiz of the Arizona Republic. “Today was a little bit different with scoring a little bit more and rebounding. I still missed a free throw so a lot of work to be done.”

The Mercury's win extended their streak to three games, improving their record to 3-1, a significant turnaround considering they achieved only a third of last season's win total. Natasha Cloud, playing against her former team, played a crucial role with a double-double, recording 14 points and 10 assists. Cloud, who spent eight seasons with the Mystics, was motivated by the manner of her departure.

“This meant a lot to me,” Cloud said. “Everyone kind of knows what it is. I was let go in the offseason and I found a home here. To give eight years to an organization and to be fired on an off day is crazy and coming off of vacation too. That was not fun and I had Dec. 13 marked off on my calendar before I played today’s game. I made sure to look back and feel all of those feelings that I felt in that moment.”

Diana Taurasi-Natasha Cloud alley-oop set the tone

Mercury guard Diana Taurasi drives up the court past Mystics guard Julie Vanloo (32) during a game.
© Patrick Breen/The Republic / USA TODAY NETWORK

Cloud's determination was obvious throughout the game. One of the game's early highlights was an alley-oop play from Cloud to Taurasi, setting the tone for the rest of the match.

“DT was really great for us leadership wise when we needed that extra spark and extra voice in our huddle,” Cloud said. “She was it. I think that allowed her to get herself going too.”

Despite their strong performance, the Mercury struggled defensively on the perimeter. They allowed the Mystics to remain competitive, especially in the fourth quarter where Washington's sharp shooting from beyond the arc nearly closed the gap. The Mystics scored nine of their last 12 points from three-point range, with Shatori Walker-Kimbrough hitting a critical shot to cut the lead to seven with less than two minutes remaining.

The Mercury conceded 13 three-pointers on 36 attempts, including six in the second half, which highlighted an area needing improvement.

“Our perimeter defense needs to tighten up,” said head coach Vanessa Nygaard. “We can't afford to give up that many open looks, especially in close games.”

As Taurasi put it, “We have a lot of work to do, but we’re getting there. It's about finding ways to win and doing it together. Tonight was a step in the right direction.”