Familiar faces return, but familiar star Diana Taurasi leads Mercury past Wings

Taurasi hits milestone in Mercury's opening win (1:09)

Diana Taurasi becomes the first player in WNBA history to hit 1,000 3-pointers in her career as Phoenix tops Dallas 86-78. (1:09)

PHOENIX -- In a WNBA season opener that had some intriguing comeback stories -- including the return of Dallas center Liz Cambage -- the star of the game was that player who for so long has made defenses groan, "Ugh, she never goes away."

Or as Phoenix's DeWanna Bonner put it, "Still the GOAT -- that's exactly what she is."

Bonner, also one of the comeback stories, was referring to Mercury guard Diana Taurasi, who continues to stake a claim to greatest of all time as she begins her 14th season in the WNBA.

In Phoenix's 86-78 victory over Dallas on Friday, Taurasi scored a game-high 26 points and also hit the 1,000th 3-pointer of her WNBA career. She now has 1,001 treys in 399 regular-season games. (Not to mention an additional 140 in 52 playoff games.)

Taurasi was already the WNBA's all-time leader in that category; current Liberty coach Katie Smith is second at 906, and Spurs assistant Becky Hammon third at 829. The only active player even close to Taurasi is her good friend Sue Bird; the Seattle guard has 795 3-pointers entering this season.

Taurasi never has been big on numbers, but 1,000 means something to her -- especially because she has become the greatest from long range while also doing so many other things well.

"It takes a lot of hard work, and having unwavering confidence," Taurasi said of the shooter's mentality. "You will have days where you go 1-for-9, and you come back the next day and try again. Shooting 3-pointers is the first skill that I really thought about and had ingrained in me.

"But I always wanted to be well-balanced, too. I wanted to do a little bit of everything. We talk to these kids and tell them, 'You have to be good at everything; that's the only way you can get to the next level.' "

A lot of good players got the painful lesson of just how hard it is to get to -- and stay at -- the WNBA level this past week. They were cut with WNBA rosters finalized at 12. The depth of talent in the league makes Taurasi's reign at the top for so long all the more impressive.

And having Bonner -- who missed last season as she gave birth to twins -- back on court with Taurasi was a beautiful sight for Mercury fans. Bonner finished with 17 points and a game-high 12 rebounds.

"They're two of the best in the world coming off screens," Dallas coach Fred Williams said of Taurasi and Bonner. "If you don't play it right, they get a step on you, and they're going to put it in."

Taurasi and Bonner also share the "mom" thing now; Taurasi's wife, former Mercury player Penny Taylor, gave birth to a son in March. Taurasi said caring for the baby has honed her time-management skills even more. Bonner has gotten that double with twins, plus she had to get back to playing shape after pregnancy.

"It's the hardest thing I've ever done," Bonner said. "I'm still not there -- you saw I got a little tired tonight and had some air balls. But I had a good support system with the Mercury and my overseas team.

"I was so nervous before this game; I felt like I was a rookie. But as soon as I heard my name called and felt how much love the fans in this building gave me, I calmed down. There is no better feeling than coming back to a place where you're so welcome and so wanted."

That brings us to another featured attraction in Friday's game: the long-awaited return of Cambage. The Australian was drafted at No. 2 behind Maya Moore in 2011 by Tulsa but never took to being in Oklahoma. She played a combined 53 games in the 2011 and '13 seasons.

Even after the franchise moved to Dallas in 2016, Cambage wasn't ready to return. She dealt with an Achilles' injury and what she fully acknowledges were some difficult emotional times over the years. In the back of her mind, she expected to rejoin the WNBA but was determined to do so on her own timetable.

This year, it felt right for her, and it seemed appropriate that her first regular-season game back would be against another outstanding center in Phoenix's Brittney Griner. Friday, Cambage finished with 18 points and nine rebounds, and Griner had 13 and seven.

Having a friend and fellow Aussie in Erin Phillips on the Wings' staff helped lure Cambage back to the WNBA. But ultimately, it was about her being physically and mentally ready to play in this league again. And remember, she's still only 26; she was 19 when she was drafted.

"Five years is a long time," Cambage acknowledged about being away from the WNBA. "It's good to be back. I took a step away and really worked on myself mentally and let my body heal. Now, I'm feeling really good. We're still learning, and we're a team that's going to get better every day.

"It is a wonderful feeling hearing from the fans that I have been missed. I think games like tonight, with Brittney and I going against each other, it's great for the league."

Taurasi said when she was visiting Australia a few years ago, she talked to Cambage and implored her to return to the WNBA.

"I'm so happy she's here," Taurasi said. "I told her back then, 'You're one of the best players in world, and this is the best league. Your career will not reach its potential unless you come here and give it at least a whole year.' This kid has got tremendous talent, and she plays with an edge."

No one does that better than Taurasi, though. She has always been that way. Taurasi left her Russian club, UMMC Ekaterinburg, in December, and focused on getting as ready as possible for this WNBA season.

"I was working on my ankle and back, which have been problematic for years," she said. "The conditioning and strength part, which you really can't do during the WNBA season. It was a process, and some of it was tedious. But I used that time to get better."