Diana Taurasi prides herself on being a distributor in the Phoenix Mercury's up-tempo offense, but the former WNBA scoring champion proved in Game 1 just how dangerous she can be when taking advantage of her own opportunities.
Phoenix looks to advance to the Western Conference finals by closing out this best-of-three series against the Los Angeles Sparks on the road Sunday night.
Taurasi became the first player in league history to lead the league in scoring during one season and assists per game in another by averaging 5.6 during the regular season. But on Friday, Taurasi hit 10 of 15 from the field - 6 of 9 from 3-point range - and scored a playoff career-high 34 points in a 75-72 victory.
"She does what she needs to do for this team to win," coach Sandy Brondello said. "Some days, it's scoring, other days, it's creating, distributing, just getting other people involved."
Taurasi's performance helped the Mercury beat the Sparks for the sixth time this season and came on a night when Brittney Griner went 2 for 11 and scored just six points.
"I think all year that's the way it's been with our team," Taurasi said. "You can't always have a great game, you can't always get the shots you want, especially on a talented team like this. (Friday) was just my day and luckily they went in."
Shots have been falling more for Phoenix than any other team as it set a WNBA record with 29 victories. It has a chance to reach the conference finals for the fifth time in six years after Los Angeles failed to capitalize on its chances late in Game 1.
Candace Parker scored a team-best 22 points, but her pass to Kristi Toliver sailed high and gave the ball back to the Mercury, who hit their free throws to close it out.
Toliver scored 17 points and Nneka Ogwumike added 12 for the Sparks, who led by four with 6:23 remaining.
"Down the stretch, unfortunately, like I told Ms. Parker, 'It doesn't come down to one play, there were a couple more plays before that where we should have gotten the rebound,'" Sparks coach Penny Toler said.
Taurasi praised Phoenix's poise in the fourth quarter of a contest that was closer than many expected after the Mercury finished 13 games ahead of Los Angeles in the West.
"We have a lot of confidence going into games down the stretch, we've actually played in a lot of them this year where they have come down to two or three possessions, especially against L.A.," Taurasi said. "We grinded it out. It was a big grind."
Phoenix has won three of its last four on the road, while Los Angeles has won four of five at home.