Womhoops Guru

Mel Greenberg covered college and professional women’s basketball for the Philadelphia Inquirer, where he worked for 40 plus years. Greenberg pioneered national coverage of the game, including the original Top 25 women's college poll. His knowledge has earned him nicknames such as "The Guru" and "The Godfather," as well as induction into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Guru's WNBA Musings: Considering WNBA's Top Moments

By Mel Greenberg

The Guru does not have a media vote to rank the top 15 moments – this is a fan exercise sponsored by Boost Mobile – but at looking at the list here is what he thinks would be at the top of his list.

Understand, the ranking would be different if voting were done earlier in the time frame of WNBA history up to that point.

Also, part of the Guru’s consideration is what caught the attention of the person-in-the-street, what was the implication in terms of competition or historical significance.

The Guru is not ranking all the moments on the ballot because after his group there’s no strong feeling over what’s left in terms of what belongs on top of the other.

1. Teresa Weatherspoon – The Half-court Shot: Had New York won the WNBA championship series rather than just extend it against Houston to a deciding Game 3; this would even be a more noteworthy moment.

The fact that the Liberty didn’t do such a thing even filled the Guru with a touch of reluctance to place it on top BUT when it occurred it immediately hit the TV highlight cycle for the next 24 hours and just as important, to this day, also considering the second-half rally to make the shot noteworthy, when people discuss moments in the WNBA, Weatherspoon’s big moment usually comes up without any prodding in the discussion.

2. First-Ever Game – In terms of giving weight to historical significance of this nominee, the Guru moves it up higher than he first considered because the WNBA had bombed the NBA playoffs telecasts with promos in advance of the launch so by Game Day, especially with the NBA parentage involved, the tip between the Los Angeles Sparks and New York Liberty was a highly anticipated moment.

3. Deanna Nolan’s Three-Pointer – The shot in the last minute of Game 3 of the 2003 finals that enabled the Detroit Shock to dethrone Los Angeles taking the series 2-1 after being blown out by the Sparks in Game 1. With back-to-back titles coming into the series L.A. had replaced Houston as the new Darth Vader evil empire of the league.

Furthermore, with coach Bill Laimbeer at the helm of the Shock and his NBA heritage as a member of the “Bad Boys” Detroit Pistons champions going against L.A. coach Michael Cooper, who played against Laimbeer with the Showtime Lakers, drew interest from beyond the women’s basketball community. And the worst-to-first turnaround made it a feel-good story on the sports pages. Few would remember the Nolan shot itself but that it resulted, as a trip lever, is a reason to rank it so high.

4. The WNBA Finals Game One 120-116 Win in 2009 By Phoenix: It set the stage for a terrific five-game heavyweight title match that went to the final moments of the deciding game o become the best WNBA finals ever. Had Atlanta won a game or two last season instead of coming close to Seattle might have been enough to make that finals the best.

5. Diana Taurasi’s 47 in 111-110 Triple Overtime Win. It took the Phoenix Mercury one more season into 2007 before former coach Paul Westhead’s high-octane offensive system resulted in the first of two WNBA titles for the Mercury. But at that moment Phoenix was still in the hunt to dislodge Houston and the win with the magical Taurasi willing her teammates brought excitement to the Mercury pursuit of postseason action.

6. Sophia Young’s Buzzer-Beater. It extended the West Finals in 2008 to a Game 3 and San Antonio cashed in by taking the conference playoff crown before losing to the Detroit Shock in the finals. Coming in the playoffs from the former star of the 2005 Baylor NCAA champions and enabling the Silver Stars to stay alive and make good again next time out is a worthy enough reason for this moment by Sophia Young to be listed at this spot in the Guru’s ranking.

7. Lisa Leslie’s Dunk Shot. In the scheme of things Leslie did so many things well in her storied career that the shot itself is not an immediate discussion point when looking back on her exploits. But when it happened it was pretty big stuff and drew national attention, which, at the time, was important enough to keep the WNBA in the headlines in the sports landscape.

8. Nikki Teasley’s Three-Pointer. This gets on the list Guru’s list because it is the last of the nominees off a competitive moment in terms of outcome. Teresa Weatherspoon was on the other side of a winning long-range bomb in the 2001 finals and this one gave L.A. the title 2-0 over New York.

But the Guru also had a feeling that if a Game 3 was necessary the Sparks had too many weapons not to prevail the same way Houston did after ‘Spoon’s shot.

Noting the other seven nominees. Kim Perrott’s battle against breast cancer and Edna Campbell’s return to action having engaged in a similar fight were compelling personal moments bringing the non-basketball stories to the WNBA.

Candace Parker had a fabulous rookie season worthy of the double honor. But for all that, Los Angeles didn’t even make the finals that season, which is not to deny her superior talent.

Sue Bird has more of a reputation for her three-point buzzer-beaters than a spectacular pass to Seattle and West All-Star teammate Lauren Jackson, but that’s what the committee put on the list.

Atlanta’s Angel McCoughtry and New York’s Cappie Pondexter lighting up the baskets in the Eastern finals last season – big, maybe because of the playoffs, but there have been other similar moments in any game, including the playoffs, the Guru suspects.

Tina Thompson breaks Lisa Leslie’s career scoring record. If Leslie were like Thompson playing forever, the mark would still be untouchable.

President Obama going to a Washington Mystics game as a first-time White House visitor was news. It would be more news if he or other members of the First Family made a few return trips considering they live right the same neighborhood as the Verizon Center. After all, isn’t the WNBA’s marketing motif about getting first-time fans to return?

East-West Crossovers Affecting The Playoff Hunt

Way back at the beginning of the WNBA season looking ahead before anyone knew last summer’s Seattle team to date would become this summer’s Minnesota team, before anyone knew injuries would take their toll, especially at Seattle and Los Angeles, the notion here was that each conference would beat up on each other and perhaps the 12 crossover games per team in the East-West matchups would ultimately determine how things shake out.

Well, there’s a few games left in this category and a little over a week of key intra-conference games remaining but in looking at the theory the results are kind of mixed.

This exercise, for what it’s worth, begins with a look at the West, though because of their overwhelming poor performances, all of the Washington and Tulsa numbers are not spoken to from the two team’s perspectives.

Also, one factor also not spoken here is the series results by team against team within the conference so this will be revisited after the final standings are in on Sept. 11.

The Minnesota Lynx, which clinched the West top playoff seed, have won everywhere and in comparisons to the rest of the West they are 7-2 crossing the geographical divide with a home-and-home against the New York Liberty and a home game against the Chicago Sky still to play.

The Lynx swept Chicago, Atlanta and Washington while getting a split with Indiana, won on each other’s court, and Connecticut, which were each won by the home team. They are 1-0 beating Chicago on the road while as stated the New York games have yet to be played.

Within the Western Conference, Minnesota is a runaway 17-4 with one game left.

The WNBA defending champion Seattle Storm, which had to go most of the summer without three-time MVP Lauren Jackson, who recently returned from a hip injury suffered in late June, are in the hunt for the West second seed because within the conference the Storm have the next best record at 12-7 with three games remaining.

What pulls the Storm back to the pack is a 6-5 mark against the East with a home game against Chicago remaining that barring an upset should have them at 7-5 at the finish.

Phoenix went 8-4 against the East. The Mercury swept Atlanta, Chicago and Washington, split with New York and Indiana and were swept by Connecticut. In the end, what will bring more clarity to the numbers here in terms of the final standings are how the Mercury handle their business within the conference. They are 9-8 with five games remaining.

At the moment cross conference performance is the difference between the San Antonio Silver Stars barely holding the fourth and final playoff spot in the West and the Los Angeles Sparks, which had one of the key injuries with Candace Parker missing as much time as Seattle’s Jackson before recently returning to action from a knee injury.

San Antonio was 6-5 against the East with a home game remaining against Washington, which, if the Silver Stars live up to the favorites role will have them finish the cross-conference action at 7-5.

The Silver Stars’ big catches were sweeps of Connecticut and Atlanta but New York and Indiana swept them while splitting with Chicago.

By comparison Los Angeles is 4-7 with a home game to be played with Chicago on the final weekend. The Sparks split with New York and Indiana but were swept by Atlanta and Connecticut. They are 1-0 against Chicago but also split with Washington and if they don’t make the postseason a game that will standout will be the 24-point second-half lead squandered in an eventual overtime loss to the Mystics.

Of course there was also last week’s loss to Tulsa at home that enabled the Shock to end their WNBA-record 20-game losing streak.

Within the conference, San Antonio is 8-10 and while Los Angeles is 9-10.

Ultimately beyond the overall look, the final kick will determine the difference in a run that includes a game against each other in Los Angeles next week.

Los Angeles’ other closing opponents are at Phoenix, and home games with Tulsa and Chicago.

San Antonio’s other games are hosting Phoenix Thursday night – one of two games on the league schedule to kick off September – hosting Seattle, hosting Washington and visiting Tulsa.

The Eastern Look

Ok, now to bring the same exercise to the East, which seems to have the four playoff participants determined, though not all officially locked into the postseason and none with a seed number that’s been determined.

But in our performance evaluation, which is less clear because of games remaining, Indiana and Connecticut are 1-2 at the moment and close together because that is how they are in the two categories going into Friday night’s collusion at the Mohegan Sun Arena.

Indiana was a gaudy 8-4 out of conference and Connecticut 7-5, though the loss at Tulsa really hurt on several levels.

The Fever swept San Antonio and Tulsa while splitting with Minnesota, Seattle, Phoenix and Los Angeles.

Connecticut split with Minnesota and Seattle, swept Phoenix and Los Angeles, were swept by San Antonio and split with Tulsa. The loss at Seattle featured Sue Bird’s miraculous shot at the buzzer to get the win after the Sun had rallied to go ahead.
In the conference Indiana is 11-6 and Connecticut is 11-7.

New York is in the hunt with a 7-3 cross-conference record, though that could change drastically performance wise with the home-and-home Minnesota series ahead. The Liberty were not swept by anyone, yet; split with Seattle, losing on the road at the finish; also split with Phoenix and Los Angeles and swept San Antonio and Tulsa.

In the conference New York is 10-10 with Indiana at home and Connecticut on the road to be played next week.

Atlanta might be in front right now were the defending Eastern playoff champs not 5-6 against the West with a Tulsa visit left.

They swept Seattle and Los Angeles but were swept by Minnesota, Phoenix and San Antonio.

However, the Dream are 11-7 in the conference with four games left.

Chicago is 10-11 in the conference with one game left and with a major incomplete against the West the Sky are 4-5 that includes 1-0 against Seattle; 2-0 against Tulsa; 0-1 against Los Angeles; 0-1 with Minnesota; 0-2 against Phoenix, and 1-1 with San Antonio.

-- Mel

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