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Penny Taylor caps career as Mercury are swept out of playoffs

Australian Penny Taylor helped Phoenix win three WNBA championships over her 13-season career. Cheryl Evans/The Arizona Republic/AP

PHOENIX -- Penny Taylor looked sad, of course, but also irritated and disappointed as she left the court. She is an intense competitor, and her Phoenix Mercury being swept in the WNBA semifinals was an affront to her fighting spirit.

It's not that she didn't acknowledge how good the victorious Minnesota Lynx are. "We definitely lost to a better team," she said.

But Taylor, who finished her stellar WNBA career with Sunday's 82-67 loss, wanted her last stand to be a real battle to the end. It wasn't -- the Lynx didn't allow it to be -- but no one could doubt that Taylor gave everything she had, despite going 0 of 7 from the field.

"Oh, let's not look at that," she said later when glancing at the printed box score after the game, a show of her usual good humor.

Her four points all came on free throws, including two in the first quarter after her face hit the floor in a scramble for the ball.

Getting up slowly, in obvious pain, but then going to the line with determination and hitting both foul shots? Vintage Penny Taylor.

"I just wanted to make sure my face was still there," she joked. "And then after that, I was fine. But, yeah, it gets harder. Today was hard, physically. In a way, it reinforces that there is an expiration date for everyone. Some days, you feel good. Today wasn't one of them."

No, but there were a lot of days -- a lot of years, actually -- when Taylor soared.

"At the root of anybody that good is a burning competitive desire," Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve said. "There were so many facets to her game. I felt like every time I was scouting her, I would say, 'Penny Taylor is so good.' She had a tenacity about her."

Reeve can recall specific defensive plays that Taylor made over the years against the Lynx, and how she forced opponents into mistakes.

"She was so feisty and incredibly smart," Reeve said.

Taylor might next take those qualities to the sidelines; she has an interest in becoming a coach. And the Mercury will have to move on without a player who has meant so much to the organization and the fans in Phoenix.

Diana Taurasi, who had 12 points Sunday, will be 35 next year. Brittney Griner, who just completed her fourth WNBA season, is entering her peak years, but had an uneven performance at times in 2016. There are questions the Mercury will have to answer for 2017.

Taylor has been an integral part of three WNBA championship teams. Phoenix has had to play without her before, including in 2015, when she sat out the season to rest. But this time, she's not coming back.

Taylor was the last standing of the star players who retired this year: Indiana's Tamika Catchings, New York's Swin Cash, fellow Australian Lauren Jackson and DeLisha Milton-Jones.

"Whatever she does, whatever she puts her mind to, she'll be great."

Phoenix coach Sandy Brondello on Penny Taylor

Late in Sunday's game, the crowd at Talking Stick Resort Arena gave Taylor a loud ovation when Mercury coach Sandy Brondello subbed her out. And as the closing seconds ticked away, the fans began to chant her name, "Penny, Penny, Penny."

Taylor came into the WNBA as the 11th pick in the 2001 draft, when she was just a 19-year-old from the other side of the world. She was picked by Cleveland, and when that franchise disbanded, she was the top selection by Phoenix in the dispersal draft.

The Mercury faithful immediately loved her, and their affection was returned. In fact, any WNBA fan who wanted a selfie with Taylor got one; she has been a fantastic ambassador for the league. At some point, that's likely to continue as she moves to a new role outside of playing.

"I think that it's important that players who understand professional basketball stay involved with it," she said. "But I have a lot to still learn. When you're in the game, it's so easy to get lost in your part of it. But in coaching, you always have to look at the whole.

"I am looking forward to that personal part of it where I can help players individually, which is something I feel like I could possibly be good at."

The fact that a player with Taylor's basketball acumen talks about how much she doesn't know is an indicator of why she has been such a great teammate. She's always that humble.

So we leave it to Brondello to state definitively: "Whatever she does, whatever she puts her mind to, she'll be great."

Although Taylor wants a bit of a rest first.

"I'm just going to enjoy doing nothing, and see how long that lasts," she said. "I have a feeling not very long. But when I look back, I started professionally at roughly 16, so it's a good stretch. And I've loved every minute of it."

Taylor has traveled the globe in her career, playing for the Australian national team, in overseas leagues, and in the WNBA. During that time, both of her parents died of cancer. But basketball has been, and will continue to be, a comfort to her.

"My mother used to keep everything, because I wasn't very good at doing that," Taylor said of memorabilia. "For a while there, I didn't know where my [Olympic] silver medals were. Because we're always moving as basketball players.

"But even if I don't have the physical things, the memories are what I carry with me, and that's all that matters."