Diana Taurasi: One of Katie Smith's biggest admirers and competitors

Phoenix Mercury guard Diana Taurasi in the visitors locker room at the Prudential Center after Tuesday night's win against the New York Liberty. - Photo by Ray Floriani.

Katie Smith played her last home game for the New York Liberty on Tuesday and has been widely recognized as one of the toughest competitors ever to play the game. You can count Diana Taurasi among Smith admirers.

NEWARK, NJ - In the aftermath of the New York Liberty loss to Phoenix on Tuesday, coach Bill Laimbeer discussed Katie Smith's matchup with Diana Taurasi of the Mercury.

"They (Smith and Taurasi) really got at it and beat the crap out of each other," Laimbeer said. "No one who didn't appreciate that (matchup) really doesn't appreciate it."

Not surprising, Laimbeer's latter point referenced a style of play. Physical, fighting through screens, pressuring and not allowing an easy shot - not at all surprising for the Liberty mentor. As a player on the Pistons 'bad boys' teams he never was one to wince or shy away from contact. As a coach, he has preached defense first and foremost.

Later each 'combatant' was asked to assess their view of this 'rivalry' - maybe combatant is too harsh as these are a pair of gifted and skilled players. Regardless, they get after it. It is something truly unique and, in many ways, a pleasure to watch: a meeting of intense proportion yet one built on admiration and respect.

Their comments were brief and to the point. In addition, each smiled as they remarked. A smile rooted in the memory of some epic battles on the court. Something they will not forget but rather cherish as special competitive memories.

Katie Smith: "She is one of my favorites to go up against no doubt. We go at it and leave it all on the floor but it is out of respect. There is a love. You want to see who can hold their own but she is just a great offensive player."

Diana Taurasi: "She is a warrior. Takes a lot of pride and will not back down. Afterwards we will even go out to dinner but during the game we just go at each other. We've seemed to have so many battles and all in the WNBA."

The numbers:

Player

Minutes

Points

Efficiency

Eff Per Min

Taurasi

34

17

20

.500

Smith

34

17

9

.265

Statistics for Katie Smith & Diana Taurasi in Newark on 9/10/13.

After competing hard for their 34 minutes, we have to look at the numbers. Both put 17 points in the book but the NBA/WNBA efficiency numbers favored the visiting Taurasi. Her 6 rebounds and 9 assists went a long way to the higher efficiency. Smith did not come up with a rebound and had just three assists.

As Smith retires, she has a number of admirers paying tribute. Probably the biggest and most ardent is also arguably her fiercest competitor, Diana Taurasi.

"She (Smith) has just had an incredible WNBA career," Taurasi said. "She is one of the greatest if not the greatest woman player ever. You talk about Tina (Thompson), Lisa (Leslie), Cheryl (Miller), they are all great players. Katie Smith has to be in the conversation with those mentioned and I'm not so sure she would not be at the beginning of the conversation."

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