WNBA Report: New York Rally on Washington Highlights Key Matchups
By Mel Greenberg
NEWARK, N.J. -- Holding court during warmups in Washington Sunday before the Mystics hosted the Los Angeles Sparks in a WNBA East-West crossover game, first-year coach Mike Thibault offered his synopsis of the current state of affairs involving the 12 teams.
"The league is really funny," said Thibault, who is new to Washington but not to the WNBA after coaching the Connecticut Sun for all previous 10 years of its existence after the franchise was acquired from its previous identity as the Orlando Miracle.
"There's one really great team," Thibault said, alluding to the Western leading Minnesota Lynx. "There's a few other really talented teams," which could probably include Los Angeles, the Phoenix Mercury despite its inability to leave up to expectations, and the Chicago Sky.
"Then there's the rest of us that are just muddling through."
Some are doing a decent job of muddling like the Seattle Storm, which beat Phoenix 80-65 Tuesday night to stay in fourth in the Western Conference sa be afloat despite having to play the entire the season without its two All-Stars in Sue Bird and Lauren Jackson, who are recovering from injuries.
Seattle solidified itself a little more in the West after the fifth-place San Antonio Silver Stars, missing Sophia Young and Becky Hammon with injuries, became the 10th straight team to knuckle under Minnesota Tuesday night as the Lynx prevailed 93-80.
"I hope we can make the playoffs," Seattle coach Brian Agler said last month when Seattle was making a piece of its Eastern crossover visits. "Because I really like what they've been doing."
Indiana, likewise, which is one of several other teams gashed by injuries with little to use for remedies under the league's stiff rules regarding rosters, is holding its own as the 64-58 win Tuesday night over the East front-running Chicago Sky in the Windy City would suggest
Connecticut is starting to stir from its injury situation but the Sun fell short 74-72 at home to Los Angeles, which was again without Csndace Parker. and gained no ground on getting closer to the playoff slots.
And then there's the other types as displayed here Tuesday morning at the Prudential Center in which depending who you were cheering for Washington squandered a 14-point lead in the fourth quarter or the New York Liberty made a stirring rally to land on the winning side of a 93-88 outcome.
The win put New York (9-12) inside the playoff loop in fourth place by a half--game over Washington (9-13), which fell out to fifth after losing its fourth straight, including two to New York.
Alex Montgomery off the New York bench had a career-high 21 points, including a career-best three 3-pointers, while Plenette Pierson dealt a career-best 10 assists.
"We finally put forth the energy and the effort that's necessary for us to win basketball games," said New York first-year coach Bill Laimbeer, back in the WNBA for the first time since 2009 after guiding the former Detroit Shock to three league championships.
"When we do that, we have some good offensive weapons. I think we had great individual performances tonight from Alex Montgomery to Plenette Pierson," Laimbeer said.
He also noted that center Kara Braxton, his former Detroit post star who had 16 points, is playing a pretty good stretch right now.
"But the star of the show continues to be Cappie (Pondexter) and her learning of how to lead this time from the lead guard positiion," he said of the former Rutgers All-American who had 21 points and dealt eight assists.
"Eight aassists and three turnovers -- that's pretty solid. If we play like that, we'll be OK. We have to win every game before the playoffs."
But Laimbeer was as uneven as his team has been in his assessment of the Liberty.
With Los Angelss next on the docket with a visit Saturday afternoon at 1 p.m., Laimbeer looked ahead, saying, "They beat us pretty good out in LA, but we're a different basketball team today then we were then. I think we're going to put on a good show for them."
But at the same time Laimbeer was reaady to buy into calling the win a building block.
"We have to put together a couple of games. We go to Washington and get a nice win and then we came baack here and lost to Connecticut."
Veteran Katie Smith, who, by the way, is on the committee to pick the next USA Basketball Women's Olympic Coach, added 11 points to the Liberty attack.
New York has rallied five times this season in the second half to win games.
With Chicago heading to be on track for its first playoffs since joining the league as an expansion team in 2006 and Atlanta perhaps having a leg up off a fast start before losing Sancho Lyttle until next month because of an injury, it's a four-team chase for the other two spots.
Position in the standings is one thing but also important is collecting the kind of wins that might be tie-breackers on the final day of the regular season in the middle of next month.
New York, which also has a membership card in the key injury club in the league this season, is now 2-0 on Washington with two games remaining in this season's series with the Mystics.
On the other bench however, Thibault was totally frustrated after Washington lost its fourth straight and let a game get away that would have shored things up for the moment.
"I feel awful," Thibault said. "I feel terrible. We had a 14-point lead.
"We made every mistake you could make in the last six-seven minutes. We turned the ball over five times. The game was there to be won and we didn't win it. We had a 14-point lead and we gave it away."
All-Star Crystal Langhorne had 24 points and 11 rebounds for Washington, while Matee Ajavon, another former Rutgers star, had 13 points in her first homecoming visit of the season. Ivory Latta scored 11 points out of the starting lineup while rookie reserves Nadirah McKenith out of nearby St. John's on Long Island had nine points and former Ohio State star Tayler Hill, the fourth overall pick in April's draft, scored sseven points.
Thibault guided Connecticut to the regular season East title but he was let go last fall after the Sun missed the finals losing in the deciding conference playoff game to eventual WNBA champion Indiana.
He was relatively scooped up by Washington, which won just five games last season.
He knew the Mystics were going to be a work in progress but drew praise in WNBA circles for getting Washington to a 9-9 start before the current slide.
"This is not something I'm used to," Thibault said of games that have been squandered.
Meanwhile, though All-Star Candace Parker hass not been with Los Angeles on the current swinfg, the Sparks are lighting up the scoreboard despite her absence.
"It was a great win. It was a great battle," said Sparks coach Carol Ross, whose team now heads to Indiana for a Thursday visit before dropping by the Prudential Center Saturday against New York.
"It's always fun to blow people out, but it's also fun to know that your team can dig down deep and weather runs and fight it out."
Former Maryland star Kristi Toliver had 19 points and a career-high nine rebounds for Los Angeles, while former UConn star Tina Charles had 25 points and 14 rebounds, her 77th double double to pass Seattle's Jackson and go into fourth place on the all-time career list.
Out in the Southwest Tina Thompson and former Penn State star Tanisha Wright each had 19 points in the win over Phoenix, which got 18 points from former Temple star Candice Dupree.
Rookie Brittney Griner suffered an ankle injury and left the game on a night Phoenix was promoting a bobblehead giveaway in Griner's likeness.
In Chicago former Delaware star Elena Delle Donne, the No. 2 overall pick in April's draft and top vote getter from the fans for the starting All-Star lineup, had 12 points in her return to action after being sidelined for two games and the All-Star game with a concussion suffered just before the All-Star break.
But the Sky fell to Indiana for their second loss to the Fever this season.
Chicago travels to Connecticut Friday night, while Washington will be hosting Connecticut Sunday afternoon.
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