WNBA: Mystics Win Makes East Fit To Be Tied
By Mel Greenberg
WASHINGTON -- Remember the good old early days of the WNBA when weeks ahead everyone knew the final chapter of the WNBA season was going to be simply named "Houston" or several years later "Los Angeles".
Heck, one can even throw in the former Detroit team not too long ago as the one destined to earn a trophy.
But those days are gone.
This is the new anything-can-happen WNBA where nothing is predictable in terms of the playoffs just ahead. In fact in this particular moment even the season-long domination of the Seattle Storm does not guarantee that the franchise in the Pacific Northwest will be the one using the word "champions" when all is said and done next month.
Whatever has been decided to date palls by what yet has to be decided for the playoffs which, after Friday night's wildness, won't be determined until the last game of the regular season is played Sunday night.
The Washington Mystics and New York Liberty were already in playoff mode battling each other to the final seconds in the Verizon Center Friday night before a highly vocal crowd of 13,109 persons.
Meanwhile down in Texas, apparently the Indiana Fever remained in the same funk it displayed Tuesday night in the lopside loss in New York to the Liberty. That enabled the San Antonio Silver Stars (13-20) to stay alive in the West.
And in the late game from the West Coast, Los Angeles (13-20) earned a playoff spot, though not its seed, by putting the Minnesota Lynx (12-21) on the ropes with a 98-91 win at the Staples Center.
The East is now the first conference in WNBA history to have a three-way deadlock at the top going into the final games of the season, which will be Sunday.
The gridlock occurred with Washington besting New York here 75-74 on former Duke star Lindsey Harding's driving layup with 8.8 seconds remaining. Meanwhile, the defending conference champion Indiana Fever has suddenly become the third seed in the East for the moment by losing to San Antonio 75-61, which enhanced the playoff picture for the Silver Stars.
The Mystics (21-12) snapped New York's 10-game win streak, depriving the Liberty for the moment of gasining a home court advantage next week in the revised first-round 1-1-1 format. The second round will also be 1-1-1 with the highest surviving seeds each having the same home benefit.
Washington also jumped from No. 3 to the No. 1 seed projection based on common records among the three teams against each other. New York, which had moved into a first-place tie with Indiana, the defending conference champions, fell to second and the Fever, who went into the week in position to finish No. 1 again, fell to third.
"I said to myself, `this is really a good game,'" Washington's Langhorne said of the back-and-forth lead changes down the stretch Friday night which occurred after the Mystics yielded the 12-point lead it held at the start of the fourth quarter.
Liberty coach Anne Donovan thought her team might have been tired in the second of a back-to-back swing that began with New York rallying Thursday night at home to beat the Tulsa Shock. She also credited Washington for dispruting New York's system.
Former Rutgers star Cappie Pondexter, who had a game-high 28 points for New York, didn't feel fatigue was a factor.
"We did a great job of coming out in the fourth quarter and maintain high-level intensity," Pondexter said. "We just fell a little short."
Atlanta (19-14), which was idle, has already gained the other playoff spot and will be fourth no matter what. The Dream, who started off the season on a hot streak, are just two games out of first, which is probably also unprecedented for a fourth-place team in terms of games behind going into the final contest of the season. In one scenario for Sunday Atlanta could finish with the fourth seed and be only a game out, which will be a moot point considering the regular season will be over.
Though two days and one-game each remain for the Eastern teams, it isn't even close to being over yet in terms of which two playoff qualifiers will own the home courts in the East. Washington must go play the Dream in Atlanta Sunday where a win gives them the No. 1 seed no matter what. A loss drops them to third unless New York wins and Indiana loses, which would shorten the Mystics' drop to second.
Indiana will host the Minnesota Lynx, which needs to win or its last playoff hope will be erased. The shot may be gone anyway if Los Angeles loses at Seattle Saturday night. New York, in the East, will host the conference-rival Connecticut Sun, which was eliminated last Sunday.
As far as the West finish goes, Minnesota loses out in a three-way tie for third. The Lynx do beat San Antonio via tie-breaker in a two-way tie for fourth.
The particulars of the division races now aside, the game here gave the Mystics the season series over New York 3-2.
Washington, which had a slim 35-31 halftime lead, used a hot 76.9 percent field goal shooting effort in the third quarter to lead by as many as 12 points.
But New York, which had been giving powerful second half performances in the streak rallied in the fourth quarter and went ahead, 72-69 on a shot by Janel McCarville and two free throws from Pondexter.
Then around the 1 minute mark, Langhorne and Marissa Coleman, who were Maryland teasmmates on the 2006 NCAA champions, consecutively hit a 5-foot bank shot and a putback to regain the game for Washington.
Pondexter was not done, however, hitting a driving bank shot with 12.6 seconds left to swing the advangtage back to New York. But that was all the time in the world for Harding to help the Mystics.
New York came down and missed two shots at the finish. Right afterwards there appearedto be some sort of fracas with Pondexter observed to being twice pulled back by her teammates. However, the league did not make any officials available for comment so it is not known if any punches were thrown or any one-game suspensions will be issued.
Matee Ajavon, another Rutgers alum and former teammate of Pondexter's, had a team-high 16 points for Washington. Harding finished with 14 points, Langhorne, a native of Willingboro, N.J., near Philadelphia had 13, and Katie Smith scored 12.
McCarville and Taj Mcwilliams-Franklin scored 12 each to go with Pondexter's 28 points for New York, and Nicole Powell had 10 points.
In the Indiana game, Tamika Catchings had 15 points for the Fever, while Sophia Young scored 20 for San Antonio.
The Connecticut Sun (17-16) clinched fifth place in the West, winning at the Chicago Sky 78-71, as Renee Montgomery scored 20 points and rookie Kelsey Griffin grabbed 11 rebounds. The Sun trails first place by four games and the last playoff spot by two.
Rookie Epiphanny Prince, another former Rutgers star, had 19 points for the Sky (14-19), who are seven games out.
In the West, a game with little meaning other than a potential West finals preview, had first-place Seatttle top the defending WNBA champion Phoenix Mercury 78-73 in the Arizona desert as Swin Cash scored 13 points for the Storm (27-6).
Kara Braxton scored 15 points as the second-place Mercury (15-18) fell 12 games behind the Storm. The loss also means Seattle will be the only West team with a record of .500 or better -- another WNBA first.
If any team but Seattle comes out of the West to the finals, any of the four East playoff teams gaining the championship finals will then have home court advantage becomes each will have a better record than the three West seeds.
Tina Thompson scored 26 points and DeLisha Milton-Jones scored 24 in the win over Minnesota (12-21), which is now 15 games behind Seattle. San Antonio, off its season-series win over Los Angeles, is holding the third seed.
If Los Angeles wins on the road at Seattle, Saturday night, Minnesota would have to win at Indiana, impacting the East seeds Sunday. But the Lynx would emerge to the postseason in a two-way tie with the Silver Stars. Minnesota also loses out in a three-way tie for third because it would have less total wins in the cmbined series of the three teams against each other.
Back in the East, if Washington, New York and Indiana all lose, the three-way tie is retained. Washington, which lost All-Star Alana Beard before the season got under way, would still have the No. 1 seed. New York might still be No. 2 although if another tie-break between those two were used in this scenario, the No. 2 seed would go to the team with the best record against teams .500 or better.
In a meaningless game Saturday night, of the only two scheduled, the last-place classic will see thw wrap up between East basement resident Chicago and West dungeon resident Tulsa.
As for the so-called Maya Moore derby -- so named because the talented UConn is likely to be the No. 1 pick in the next draft -- Tulsa and Chicago are in the mix. Minnesota is in the mix one way by having the Connecticut Sun pick courtesy of a draft-day deal that saw former Nebraska star Kelsey Griffin dealt to casino-land for the 2011 firt round pick.
If Minnesota doesn't make the playoffs, then the Lynx will have their own pick in addition to the Connecticut draw for the draft lottery. Otherwise, San Antonio will have the shot.
So that's everything. The Guru will be in New York Sunday to handle the Liberty game and wrap it all up from the rest of the league.