Taurasi just shy of milestone as Mercury travel to Liberty

NEW YORK — Diana Taurasi scored 22 points in her WNBA debut on May 20, 2004, and highlighted it with a 50-foot bank shot at halftime.

Taurasi has not stopped pouring in points on her way to becoming the WNBA’s all-time leading scorer and now the guard is on the verge of another milestone.

Taurasi is three points shy of becoming the first player to reach 8,000 points and it likely will occur early in her 407th regular-season game Tuesday when the Phoenix Mercury visit the New York Liberty.

Although the Liberty are playing most of their home games at the Westchester County Center in suburban White Plains, Taurasi will get the chance to reach the milestone at Madison Square Garden, where she first appeared as a pro on July 11, 2004.

Taurasi is averaging 18.6 points through the first seven games and is on the verge of reaching the milestone after scoring 20 points in Sunday’s 78-71 win at Atlanta. Taurasi also scored 29 points in Friday’s win at Minnesota after totaling 43 points during a three-game losing streak.

The Mercury (4-3) never trailed Sunday but needed some clutch points from Taurasi to keep the lead. She scored 12 points after Atlanta was within one point early in the fourth quarter.

Besides chasing 8,000 career points, Taurasi also has reached 1,000 career 3-pointers. She reached the mark in her 399th career game, making her the fourth WNBA/NBA player to reach the milestone in less than 400 career games.

Despite Taurasi being on the verge of another milestone, it has been an uneven start for Phoenix, which was swept by the Los Angeles Sparks in the semifinals last season.

Phoenix began the season with single-digit home wins over Dallas and Seattle but then allowed 90 points per game during a three-game losing streak from May 23 to May 30 before getting a 10-point win at Minnesota on Friday.

“We have the talent, the experience and the ability to do that. Now we’ve got to put it together,” Taurasi told reporters before the season.

Taurasi will get her milestone in front of first-year Liberty coach Katie Smith, whose 6,452 career points are fifth in league history.

Smith’s team has won two straight in exciting fashion after opening the season with close losses to the Chicago Sky and Minnesota Lynx.

Last Tuesday, the Liberty allowed the game’s first 11 points before getting a 94-88 win over the Dallas Wings and followed it up by blowing a 20-point lead before posting an 87-81 road win at Indiana.

Tina Charles, who finished her career at Connecticut six years after Taurasi, has totaled 57 points and 20 rebounds in the last two games, but it was another former Huskies player who helped the Liberty even their record at 2-2.

Rookie Kia Nurse set two records Saturday. Her 34 points were the most by a Liberty rookie and the most points by a reserve in league history. Nurse is averaging 19 points in 31 minutes, which are the second most on the team.

“She’s a pro,” Charles said to MSG network about Nurse. “She plays on the Canadian national team. She’s been to different Olympics, so she knows what it’s like to be on that stage and she shows it. I think she’s a step ahead of every other rookie that’s out there right now.”

The Liberty took two of three meetings last season, but Brittney Griner totaled 31 points and 13 rebounds in Phoenix’s 81-69 home win on July 9.