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.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Guru's WNBA Report: Indiana Eyes Title And Making WNBA History As An Underdog

By Mel Greenberg

The Indiana Fever can make history Sunday night or, if necessary, in what would be a decisive Game 5 back on the road Wednesday night, by dethroning the defending WNBA champion Minnesota Lynx.

Should the Fever emerge with a first-ever league championship trophy they would be the first true underdog as in underseed in the 16-year history of the playoffs to walk away with a title and unseating the prohibitive favorite and defending champion in the process.

If the series goes to Wednesday and Indiana wins, the Fever would also be one of the few to wrap things up on the road.

Of course, Minnesota, which has the league's best overall record, is looking to rally from a 2-1 deficit and pounding in Game 3 Friday night and become one of a few in playoff championship series history to rally from a 2-1 deficit since the finals were expanded to five games in 2005.

Several others have rallied from 0-1 deficits in the original three-game format while there have also been some lower seeds take titles, but none that accomplished the feat knocking out the reigning champ, as well as the top seed.

There are seven previous finals worth looking at in different shades among all the championship series ever held.

In 2007, the former Detroit Shock were the top seed in the East as well as defending champion off the 2006 title and they entered the playoffs at 24-10 which was just one game better the Phoenix Mercury, which was the top team in the West at 23-11.

The series went to Game 5 and Phoenix won the first of two Mercury titles by also becoming the first to win on the road, period, but also while knocking out the defending champs 108-92 after evening things in the Arizona desert 77-76 in Game 4.

Incidentally, the second Mercury title came as a result of a rally over Indiana in 2009, the final year former Rutgers star Cappie Pondexter was teamed with Diana Taurasi and Penny Taylor in Phoenix.

Trailing 2-1 in Indiana, Phoenix rallied in Conseco Fieldhouse, now called Bankers Life, and then left Indianapolis to rerturn home and shortcircuit the Fever in the final minutes of Game 5.

In 2006, which resulted in the second of three Shock titles before the franchise was to later move to Tulsa under new owners, Detroit was not the top seed out of the East, but neither were the former Sacramento Monarchs out of the West, though they were the defending champions.

When the regular season ended, the Connecticut Sun was No. 1 in the East at 26-8 while the Shock at No. 2 were 23-11. Over in the West, the Los Angeles Sparks had the top seed at 25-9 while the Monarchs were 21-13 at No. 2.

Sacramento stunned the the Sparks, dousing them with a 2-0 sweep while Detroit rallied from an 0-1 deficit and then in Connecticut hammered the Sun in Game 3 in the same manner Indiana did completing a rally on the road in the Eastern finals at the Mohegan Sun Arena.

Detroit was then the higher seed in the finals and handled the Monarchs but was also the favorite.

In 2004 when the finals were still a best-of-three, Connecticut was the top seed in the East but was 18-16 in the regular season. Los Angeles in the West had the best overall record at 25-9 while the Seattle Storm was 20-14 as the two-seed.

Sacramento did the dirty work, beating Los Angeles and then Seattle knocked off the Monarchs to gain the finals and the home court over Connecticut because of the better record.

The Sun took game one, but Seattle edged Connecticut in the second game, played in the Northwest, grabbing a 67-65 victory made possible when the Sun's Nykesha Sales, a former UConn great, just missed a potential three-pointer. Seattle then took control late in a tightly=played Game 3 to win the first of two titles. The other, of course, came in the dominating season of 2010.

The 2003 finals is worth noting in this narrative but is also a wash in terms of how Indiana is being discussed competing against Minnesota.

Detroit was the best in the East with an overall 25-9 record, enough by one game to gain homecourt advantage in the finals over defending champion Los Angeles, which was 24-10, and the top team in the West.

The Sparks hammered the Shock in the Staples Center by building a 42-21 at the half and then settling for a 75-63 win in Game 1.

Following the carnage, then general manager/coach Bill Laimbeer mounted the podium, smiled, and opened the postgame press conference boldly declaring, "We feel great.We know what we have to do to adjust and we're going home."

Well, in an thrilling game two, Detroit evened the series with a 62-61 victory and then grabbed Game 3 in the closing minutes 83-78.

The year 2000 was noteworthy because of the two monsters dominating the West in Los Angeles, which finished 28-4 and by one game relegated the three-time defending champion Houston Comets to the West No. 2 seed possessing a 27-5 mark.

But Houston could not be denied again and swept the best-of-three conference finals 2-0 and then beat the New York Liberty at home in Game 2 in overtime 83-78 for a sweep.

The Comets also delivered the first rally and defense of a title, following the inaugural 1997 championship, when they fell at Phoenix in Game of the finals.

The first two years, the playoffs were like a Final Four and the Conference top two teams crossed over so the Mercury, the No. 2 team in the West at 19-11, knocked off the host ad former Cleveland Rockers, the top Eastern team, while Houston, which was 27-3, dismantled the former Charlotte Sting.

An aside: In writing this, it's amazing how many teams are no longer in place as they were at the times being referenced.

Anyhow, Game 2 in the finals returned to Houston where Phoenix, then coached by Hall of Famer Cheryl Miller, had a 15-point lead in the second half before the Comets rallied and won in overtime.

Then Houston prevailed in Game 3, pulling away in the second half.

So there you have it. If Indiana wins, the rest is history and so will be the Lynx.

Otherwise, the Guru will revisit this discussion to put Minnesota's place in perspective as a defending champion as well as team rallying from a 2-1 deficit in the finals.

Tennessee Ties

With Indiana on the brink of a championship, two individuals on the Fever with University of Tennessee backgrounds are drawing sympathetic support.

All-Star and Olympian Tamika Catchings, one of the all-timers for the Lady Vols, is drawing sentiment because of a championship is the only thing missing from an illustrious WNBA career dating to 2002 on the court, though she's been a member since 2001 but an injury during her senior year kept her on the sidelines as a WNBA rookie.

Meanwhile, Fever assistant Mickie DeMoss was a longtime aide to legendary Lady Vols coach Pat Summitt, who stepped aside after last season to become coach emeritus following the revelation in August 2011 that she was battling dementia, early onset Alzheimer's type.

Tennessee was unable to secure a ninth NCAA title for Summitt, losing in the Des Moines (Iowa) Regional final to eventual and unbeaten champion Baylor, whose Brittney Griner led the Bears to a 40-0 record.

DeMoss left to join Indiana soon thereafter but before Summitt's move to step aside in favor of another longtime aide in Holly Warlick, who had a Hall of Fame playing career at Tennessee.

Now just seven months later, DeMoss is 40 minutes away or 80 at the most, overtime notwithstanding, from having her first champagne soaking, WNBA style, that comes with winning titles.

And with that the Guru will be back Sunday night following the action.

-- Mel

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad


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