TEMPE, Ariz. -- When the WNBA schedule turns its page to the playoffs, some players get nervous, some teams get tight.
And rightfully so.
The first two rounds are win or go home. That's enough pressure over 40 minutes to make up for an entire season.
But Mercury guard Diana Taurasi doesn't fret. She doesn't feel that pressure. She doesn't get nervous.
"It becomes a little bit more fun," Taurasi said. "It's loose. A lot of people say 'playoffs' and they get all tight. And I think 'playoffs' and I think loose. Let's go. We worked this whole year to get to this point. There's nothing to be tight about. Let's go out there and play."
That's just what Taurasi did Tuesday, tallying 26 points and 12 assists in Phoenix's 101-83 win over Dallas to advance to Thursday second-round game against Connecticut (ESPN2, 8:30 p.m. ET).
When the Mercury needed her the most, Taurasi didn't hesitate. In the third quarter of her 53rd career playoff game, Taurasi did what all stars do: She dominated.
Part of it was strategic. The Mercury ran the offense through Taurasi in the second half, center Brittney Griner said.
"Good things are going to happen," said Griner, who had 17 points and five rebounds. "She's going to get it to the right person or she's going to take the right shot."
And part of it comes naturally. There's a reason Taurasi is considered one of the greatest ever -- especially in the playoffs. Taurasi's 20.8 points per game in the playoffs is third all-time in WNBA history.
On paper, she had six points and four assists in the third quarter, draining a 3-pointer just 20 seconds into the second half. She then assisted on the Mercury's next three baskets, including a pass that went three-quarters of the court for a Stephanie Talbot layup and a no-look pass to DeWanna Bonner (who finished the night with 29 points and 11 rebounds).
But it was what Taurasi did in the third quarter -- which ended with Phoenix up 15 and cruising to the second round -- that couldn't be charted in a box score that changed the course of the game one play at a time.
There was a tipped pass, putting her hip into somebody on a screen and the critical third foul she drew on Dallas center Liz Cambage, who had 22 points and 12 rebounds. Throughout the quarter, Taurasi injected emotion and a sense of urgency to her team. And her on-court coaching has become nearly as prolific as her scoring, but not as noticeable, Griner said.
"How she coaches us, honestly, is a big aspect of our game," Griner said. "Her just coming in the huddle and telling us to tweak and change. I don't think she gets as much credit as she deserves on that. I know she probably doesn't want it."
Taurasi entered Tuesday night having never lost a winner-take-all game in the WNBA. She wasn't about to start. Taurasi is now 12-0 when the season is on the line in the playoffs, both the best record and the most wins in WNBA history.
When Taurasi got going in the third quarter, her teammates and coach knew what to do.
"I just have to remind her of some plays," Mercury coach Sandy Brondello said. "Just keep running that play or this play. She just makes plays. That's what the greatest player of all time, that's what she does.
"It's not just scoring. She can score, we know that. She's one of the greatest scorers to ever play the game. But just the vision and making the right passes. She had 12 [assists] tonight, but the two games before that she had 14 assists, as well as shooting 20-plus points. That's pretty impressive for someone at 36 years of age and the amount of minutes I've played her all season long. She has to be right up there for the MVP, in my opinion."
Sometimes when Taurasi has nights like she did Tuesday, her teammates stop doing what they're supposed to do just to make sure Taurasi can keep it up.
At least that's what Griner does -- and Brondello isn't thrilled about it. But Griner knows that when Taurasi finds that groove, it's something that shouldn't be messed with.
"When Dee gets going and she's coming off, shooting it, and hitting big shots, you don't always step back and stop playing, but you do everything to get her open," Griner said. "My mindset kind of changes. I know they get on me a little bit about it, but I forget to post up or score. I'm trying to get her open to get her as many shots as possible. You just do that.
"She's started killing it. Get her the ball, get her the ball, get her the ball."
And then she'll get it back to them like she did Tuesday.
"She just makes plays. That's what the greatest player of all time, that's what she does." Mercury coach Sandy Brondello on Diana Taurasi
Taurasi became the first player in WNBA history with 20 points, 10 assists and five 3-pointers in a playoff game, and the sixth player in league history with 20 points and 10 assists in a playoff game.
Another game, another feat.
Another playoffs, another Taurasi moment.
And another win.
"At this point you try to do what you can at the highest level," Taurasi said. "That's the one thing that I've always told other players, and I've told myself. I'm just going to try to do what I can do, not more, not less, and try to do that at the highest level.
"And when you do that, good things happen and sometimes it works out really well for you."