WNBA Playoffs: Comets survive; Indiana advances
Houston Comets coach Van Chancellor has merited WNBA coach –of-the-year consideration for bringing his former four-time championship team (1997-2000) into the playoffs when not much was expected of it back in the preseason.
Considering the other part of his title as the Comets general manager, perhaps Chancellor might earn the league’s executive-of-the-year award if such a postseason honor existed.
“Dawn Staley made the trade look unbelievable,” Chancellor said Thursday night from the Northwest after his Comets stayed alive by outlasting the defending WNBA champion Seattle Storm, 67-64, to even the Western Conference semifinals series at 1-1 and extending the matchup into a third and deciding game on Saturday night.
Staley, who also coaches Temple, grabbed a key steal in the closing seconds and Janeth Arcain converted the possession with two foul shots to enable Houston to live another day.
“That’s why we made the trade,” Chancellor said. “Dawn Staley inspired us to a win tonight.”
The former Virginia star and Dobbins Tech sensation steered Chancellor’s United States Olympic squad to a gold medal in Athens, Greece, a year ago with Comets all-stars Tina Thompson and Sheryl Swoopes among her teammates.
As autumn arrived, Chancellor had interest in acquiring Staley, who was then a free agent.
However, she decided to remain with the Charlotte Sting, which went on to struggle with what became the league’s worst record.
Houston, meanwhile, was in a tight race for a playoff spot and Chancellor was looking for a point guard leader to push the Comets down the stretch.
On August 1, he got his wish when Charlotte agreed to a deal in which he would also get the Sting’s No. 2 draft pick along with Staley in exchange for Kristen Rasmussen, Adrienne Goodson and Houston’s No. 1 pick.
In Thursday night’s game, Swoopes, a candidate for league MVP, scored 20 points, including 14 in the second half as the Comets rallied from a 10-point deficit early in the final period.
Thompson scored 13 points, Arcain scored 12, and Staley had four steals in the contest.
Seattle was led by Betty Lennox, the MVP of last year’s finals, who had 16 points. Lauren Jackson, suffering with a bad back, added 14 points, and Janell Burse scored 12.
Fever Takes the Next Step
Indiana had already made a major move by finishing second in the East and getting to the playoffs for the second time in the six-year history of the Fever franchise.
On Thursday night, Indiana completed a 2-0 sweep and brought the New York Liberty to another unhappy postseason ending with a 58-50 victory.
How many ways has misfortune played a hand in New York’s demise in its playoff history?
This time, the injury to center Ann Waulters with a broken hand at the start of the playoff stretch drive ultimately hurt the Liberty’s inside game once the series with Indiana began.
Still, it’s a 50-50 proposition that New York might have prevailed with her healthy, although there remains the possibility the Liberty might have been able to grab second place and get home-court advantage in the conference semifinals.
On the other hand, home court wasn’t quite good enough for New York in the opening game, but was plenty fine for Indiana, Thursday night, as the Fever advanced to the Eastern finals against whoever wins between the Connecticut Sun and Detroit Shock.
Connecticut can close out its semifinals with a win Friday night, and the Sacramento Monarchs can do likewise at home in the West with a win over the Los Angeles Sparks.
Former Tennessee all-American Tamika Catchings led Indiana with 19 points and 12 rebounds, and Natalie Williams, heading towards retirement, added 13 points and 10 rebounds.
Kelly Miller also scored in double figures for the Fever with 11 points.
New York was led by Becky Hammon’s 14 points, and La’Keshia Frett scored 12.
Indiana led by as many as 14 points before a Liberty rally fell short down the stretch.
And the Envelope Please
You may have seen this news elsewhere over at WNBA.COM, but if not, in awards announced Thursday by the league:
Seattle guard Sue Bird claimed the Cascade Dish & Assist Award, her first assist title, after the former University of Connecticut star and 2002 overall No. 1 draft pick averaged 5.9 dishes this season.
Bird’s career assist average of 5.9 is the second highest in WNBA history, trailing only Sacramento’s Ticha Penicheiro’s 6.6 assists per game, and in just four seasons in the league, she is already ranked eighth in total career assists with 772, according to the league’s press release.
Indiana’s Tamika Catchings won the defensive Player of the Year Award presented by Tampax, after receiving 35 of a possible 50 votes from a national panel of sportswriters and broadcasters.
In the balloting, Catchings dominated with 35 votes, followed by Houston’s Sheryl Swoopes (7), Los Angeles’ Lisa Leslie (7), Connecticut’s Katie Douglas (2), Sacramento’s Yolanda Griffith (2), and Connecticut’s Margo Dydek (1).
Catching and Swoopes also dominated the first-ever All-Defensive team voting as selected by the WNBA’s 13 head coaches, who picked first and second team members by position, but weren’t allowed to vote for their own players.
The duo were joined on the first team by Sacramento’s Griffith (17 points), Indiana guard Tully Bevilaqua (16 points), and Connecticut guard Katie Douglas (13 points). The WNBA All-Defensive Second Team was comprised of Leslie (12 points), Washington guard Alana Beard (11 points), Detroit guard Deanna Nolan (10 points), Seattle forward Lauren Jackson (8 points) and Connecticut forward Taj McWilliams-Franklin (7 points).
On Friday, three more honors will be announced: The Kim Perrot Sportsmanship Award, the Coach of the Year award, and the Most Improved Player.
With all that said, it’s on to Connecticut, gas prices and all, for Friday night’s action.