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.

Friday, September 05, 2014

WNBA Finals: Storylines Abound in Phoenix-Chicago Showdown

By Rob Knox (aknoxrob1)

While the Phoenix Mercury were winning game after game during a memorable summer, there was nothing for them to do, but keep playing.

With a narrow-minded focus on reaching the WNBA’s summit, the Mercury didn’t have time to accept congratulations during an amazing 16-game winning streak that stretched out over 45 days.

The second longest single-season winning streak in WNBA history was nice and something Mercury players will be able to share with one another years from now.

However, winning a title has been the only thing that’s mattered to the Mercury.

Phoenix’s vision has come into sharper focus as its three wins away from accomplishing its goal and putting a cherry on top of a fantastic season.

The Mercury open the best-of-five WNBA Finals in the friendly confines of the U.S. Airways Center Sunday afternoon against the fourth-seeded Chicago Sky at 3:30 p.m.

The Mercury are seeking to win their third WNBA title in franchise history while this is the Sky’s first trip to the Finals.

This delicious WNBA Finals matchup is packed with many beautiful storylines.

This series features the top two picks from the 2013 draft meeting head-to-head in Phoenix’s Brittney Griner (No. 1 overall) and Chicago’s Elena Delle Donne (No. 2).

They began their professional careers against each other and delivered a show. Delle Donne scored 26 points and Griner dunked twice in an easy Sky win.

“I think it’s great hype for the league,” Delle Donne said of her matchup with Griner. “Obviously, Brittney and I are completely different players, but you know the whole ‘Three to See’ campaign. It’s always a good thing to see us match up again, especially in the finals, so I think it’s just good for the league and hopefully it’ll bring some attention.

"There’s just pride to see that this league is growing. Every player in this league is so talented, and every year I feel like the talent pool grows, so it’s just great to see that.”

More things to watch include Candace Dupree, the first draft pick in Sky history in 2006, matching up against her old team. Selected sixth overall, Dupree, one of Temple's all-time stars, played for the Sky from 2006-09 before being traded to the Mercury in a three-team deal that brought former Rutgers great Cappie Pondexter from Phoenix to theNewYork Liberty.

Dupree mentored Fowles when the LSU all-American joined the Sky in 2008.

Speaking of Fowles, raise your hand if you’re excited to see the Fowles-Griner matchup in the post.

The USA Basketball committee will be paying attention since both players are in the pool for the FIBA World Chamionship team but obviously won't be in the front part of the training in Annapolis, Md., next week or the games at the University of Delaware or Bridgeport, Conn.

Chicago guard Allie Quigley, the WNBA’s Sixth Woman of the Year, played the first 20 games of her WNBA career for Phoenix.

The Mercury (48.4 percent) and Sky (46.7) were the top two shooting teams in the league this season.

It’ll also be interesting to see which team’s defense imposes its will as the Mercury led the WNBA this season in opponents’ field goal percentage (40.7). The Sky was third (42.0).

“They have so many different weapons,” Chicago coach Pokey Chatman said of the Mercury during Thursday’s press conference. “I think there are certain areas of play you have to try to neutralize, but you can’t keep them down. You just have to understand they’re going to make their runs, they’re going to make the tough shots, and they shoot the long ball well. Brittney may get a dunk. That’s still only worth two points, shake it off, and get back at it. But yeah, they’re a great team.”

The Mercury, winners of a WNBA regular season record 29 games, may be heavy favorites, but they understand their hands will be full with a Sky team that’s just finding its groove.

On paper the 14-game discrepancy in wins between the two teams is one of the largest in WNBA Finals history. The Mercury had a longer winning streak during the season than the Sky had wins during the entire schedule (15).

Make no mistake; the Sky didn’t win a trip in a raffle to face the Mercury.

The Sky (15-19) earned it by beating the Eastern Conference’s top two seeds Atlanta and Indiana on the road in decisive third games. Chicago is flying high into the desert with more than a puncher’s chance to earn a unanimous decision for the ages.

Phoenix won both matchups this season against a Chicago team that was missing Elena Delle Donne and Courtney Vandersloot. The Mercury won 87-69 on July 2 in Phoenix and 72-66 on July 11 in Chicago.

The Mercury have been the best team in the WNBA since the season started. With a starting lineup in which each player stands at least six feet, the group literally towered over the league producing staggering statistics.

“We have good chemistry,” Phoenix coach Sandy Brondello said after her team beat New York on August 12. “We have very intelligent players. Good players and that certainly helps what we’re doing. They have brought into everything we wanted to do this season and they’ve been very unselfish. That’s been the key to our success this season.”

Dating back to the regular season, the Mercury have won 18 consecutive home games. Phoenix has not lost at home since May 23.

Lastly, the Mercury improved to 26-2 overall this season with the starting lineup of Diana Taurasi, Penny Taylor, DeWanna Bonner, Candice Dupree and Brittney Griner, the WNBA’s Defensive Player of the Year. They all average double figures and have each enjoyed memorable moments during the season.

Taurasi was at her best when the Mercury needed her to be.

She closed out the defending champion Minnesota Lynx and the Western Conference Finals in scintillating style by delivering 31 sensational points, including a 50-foot shot from over halfcourt that beat the third-quarter buzzer.

That shot became the centerpiece of a dominating 18-0 run. It was Taurasi’s second outing of 30 or more points during the playoffs. She scored 34 points against the Los Angeles Sparks in a game one win.

In an elimination game against the Sparks, Griner finished with 21 points on a perfect 9-for-9 shooting exhibition, which included a two-handed breakaway dunk.

She had 22 points against the Lynx Tuesday night in game three. Griner averaged 19.6 points against the Lynx in the WCF. She has missed 10 shots total over the Mercury's last four games.

Dupree has been her usual smooth and steady self throughout the postseason averaging 14.2 points on 60 percent shooting (32 for 63).

Bonner has chipped in with 13.2 points and dynamite defense in the Mercury’s four playoff wins.

Taylor has been crafty throughout driving the Mercury’s offensive machine that has produced at least 85 points in three of their five playoff games.

Chicago’s resilience has been well chronicled. The Sky went through a stretch in which they lost 13 of 16 games. They have overcome injuries, double-digit deficits and being counted out by the pundits. Despite all of the obstacles, the Sky are confidently where they always believed they belonged.

They have been the WNBA’s version of Rocky. No matter what, the Sky keep getting off the canvas and delivering haymakers.

The status of Delle Donne’s back isn’t known.

“It’s felt better,” Delle Donne said. “I woke up this morning, I’ve been going to appointments, I still have a bunch more to go to, try to figure it out and just do something to relieve the pain in order for me to be out there and play, and be able to move a little bit.”

At this point, it doesn’t matter to the Sky because they’ve become accustomed to picking each other up and doing what’s necessary to win.

Chicago lost the first game of the ECF to Indiana, trailed by 14 points midway through the first half in the second game before winning by two points in a double overtime classic Monday night.

In Wednesday’s clincher against the Fever, the Sky played the entire fourth quarter without Delle Donne. It was a situation they were prepared for when Delle Donne missed 17 games this season while dealing with the effects of Lyme Disease.

The Sky had Quigley and Tamera Young making offensive contributions and playing lockdown defense in the final quarter.

They have been two constants and rocks all season for the Sky. Former Rutgers star Epiphany Prince broke free of her shooting slump to deliver 11 crucial points against the Fever in the third game.

“They’re very talented,” Vandersloot said of the Mercury. “They’re deep and they have a lot of experience, but I think if you look at all of the rosters we’re one of the best teams that matches up with them, starting with we have somebody that can contain Brittney, and I think that’s huge. Obviously, their roster is great, but we haven’t played them this season at a full roster and I think that’ll be a big factor.”

Get your popcorn ready for an intriguing WNBA Finals series that will be much better than many people think.

- Posted using BlogPress from the Guru's iPad

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