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Saturday, September 4, 2010
Underestimating Merc would be mistake

By Mechelle Voepel
Special to ESPN.com

You've got athletes who maintain their optimism regardless of circumstances. And then you have Phoenix's Diana Taurasi, who is women's hoops' version of Monty Python's Black Knight.

Isn't her team down 1-0 in the Western Conference finals to the Seattle Storm after an 82-74 loss Thursday?

"'Tis but a scratch!"

Lauren Jackson
The Mercury are 0-6 against Lauren Jackson and the Storm this season, including three losses in Phoenix.

Didn't she score just nine points, on 2-of-15 shooting, with six turnovers in that game?

"I've had worse!"

Aren't the Mercury facing a do-or-die game Sunday (ABC, 3 p.m. ET) versus a team against whom they are 0-6 this season?

"It's just a flesh wound!"

We're referring to Taurasi's unshakeable confidence, of course, not how the unfortunate Black Knight ends up. It's gruesomely hilarious; he never acknowledges the slightest pain, fear or defeat. He wants to keep fighting, still thoroughly convinced he's going to win.

More often than not in her career, Taurasi has indeed won her battles. Through four seasons of college and six in the WNBA, she has five championships. But now, in order to keep her seventh WNBA season alive, Taurasi and the Mercury have to finally find a solution for the Storm, led by MVP Lauren Jackson.

It's a testament to Taurasi that nobody thinks she's even capable of having another game as subpar as she did in the series opener.

But it's more than just Taurasi's historical consistency in output that is notable here. It's the fact that she pretty much never even acknowledges worry. It's always sort of like, "Yeah, yeah, it didn't go our way, but we'll get it done next time."

Taurasi hasn't lost a playoff series in the WNBA. The two previous years in her career that the Mercury made the postseason, 2007 and '09, Phoenix won the title despite facing back-to-the-wall obstacles.

In 2007, down 2-1 in the finals to Detroit, Phoenix won at home and then on the road to take the championship.

In last season's finals, the Mercury were down 2-1 to Indiana, facing Game 4 in front of a packed Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. Tamika Catchings and Katie Douglas were fired up to win their first WNBA title.

But just as she had in 2007 against Detroit, Taurasi entered that must-win situation against Indiana looking completely sure of herself. The Mercury got that victory and then one more in Phoenix for another championship.

This summer, the Mercury's results were weird, to put it bluntly. The individual talent was there, but the results weren't. Yet despite finishing with a 15-19 regular-season record, Phoenix flattened San Antonio in the playoffs' first round.

The West finals series, though, might be where this strange season ends for the Mercury.

No opponent has won in Seattle's KeyArena this season. By contrast, Phoenix is just 10-8 at US Airways Center in 2010. The Storm have won three times this summer on Phoenix's court.

Regardless, the Mercury will take the floor Sunday believing they can still get it done against the Storm and continue their title defense. Because, as Taurasi might say, "No big deal. All we have to do is finish 2-6 this season against Seattle."

The Black Knight -- provided he, um, still had his head -- would no doubt nod vigorously in agreement.

Mechelle Voepel, a regular contributor to ESPN.com, can be reached at mvoepel123@yahoo.com. Read her blog at voepel.wordpress.com.