Phoenix guard Diana Taurasi, the WNBA's all-time leading scorer, paid two tributes to the late Kobe Bryant on what would have been his 42nd birthday Sunday. She wore the No. 8 with "Bryant" on the back of her jersey, and she had her season high in scoring while doing it.
Taurasi had 34 points, going 7-of-13 from 3-point range, as the Mercury snapped a three-game losing streak with an 88-87 victory over Washington.
With the news Saturday that center Brittney Griner, Phoenix's leading scorer and rebounder, had left the bubble for personal reasons, the Mercury needed an emotional lift. Taurasi provided that, with Bryant on her mind. Bryant, his daughter Gianna, and seven others died in a helicopter crash in January.
"It's a bittersweet moment. We celebrate him, but we still mourn him, Gigi, everyone on that helicopter," Taurasi said. "We lost a lot that day, and this is just a little bit of what we're going to continue to do to make sure that Kobe, Gigi and his family are honored the right way.
"Now it's our job, our responsibility, whether you're playing, or played in the past, to pay it forward. That's what Kobe would have done. There was no quit in him, and as the basketball community goes on, there's gonna be no quit in us in remembering Kobe."
That said, Taurasi admitted she was hesitant to wear the No. 8 jersey right up until game time, because she wanted to be sure she played well enough to truly do it justice.
"Then when I ran out there, I was like, 'All right, let's go for it,' " she said. "There was only one way to play, and I'm not talking about scoring points. I'm just talking about loving basketball, competing and putting forth that effort that he taught me by watching him."
Taurasi, who grew up in Chino, California, as a huge Lakers fan, earned the nickname "White Mamba" from Bryant as the two became good friends during their respective careers. Taurasi, 38, is in her 16th season with the Mercury, with whom she has won three WNBA titles. She has scored 8,774 points in her WNBA career.
Taurasi was limited to just six games last year dealing with back and hamstring issues. She missed three games this season with a back injury but has played well in her four games since returning Aug. 16.
"This was my night to be aggressive," she said. "I've just worked my ass off for the last two years to just get on the court. Sometimes, you've got to rely on the work you put in. Nobody personified that more than Kobe. He won three championships. He didn't quit. He wanted two more. He tore his Achilles. He had no quit. He came back."
Taurasi wore a black No. 8 Lakers jersey after the game. She said doing an episode of "Detail, Honoring Kobe" about Bryant's 65-point game against Portland in 2007 just reminded her of his tenacity.
"They had just lost seven in a row, and the way he played that game, you would have thought they had won seven in a row," she said. "We were kind of in the same position -- we lost a couple of games in a row, things are happening. Today I wanted to act like, 'You know, we have a chance if we fight and we play with passion and we play together.'"
The Mercury announced that Taurasi's game-worn Bryant jersey will be autographed and put up for auction beginning Sunday night through 11 p.m. ET on Tuesday. Proceeds will go to the Mamba and Mambacita Sports Foundation.
Mercury coach Sandy Brondello said despite all the emotional pressure that was on Taurasi on Sunday, she performed like a champion.
"When she's feeling it, she's feeling it," Brondello said. "No one really can stop her. We've seen that many times."