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 08, 2017

WNBA Playoffs: Round Two Storylines Feature Cinderellas and Heavies

By ROB KNOX (@knoxrob1)
 
The postseason fun continues for the Washington Mystics and battled-tested Phoenix Mercury. 
 
After winning elimination games at home Wednesday night, the Mystics and Mercury hit the road looking to extend their respective seasons. 
 
The Mystics beat the Dallas Wings, 86-76 and the Mercury clipped the Seattle Storm, 79-69 in the first round. 

Phoenix has enjoyed the new playoff format the WNBA implemented last season. The Mercury are 3-0 in single-elimination games and knocked out New York, also the third seed, a year ago in the second round.
 
The fifth-seeded Mercury (19-16) travel to the fourth-seeded Connecticut Sun (21-13) in the opener of a semifinal doubleheader on ESPN2 starting at 3 p.m. 

The Sun won both games against the Mercury played at the Mohegan Sun Arena. 
 
However, the Mercury won the latest matchup last Friday, 86-66 behind 31 points from Brittney Griner. This will be the first all-time playoff meeting between the Mercury and Sun.
 
The nightcap features familiar foes in the sixth-seeded Mystics (19-16) and the third-seeded New York Liberty (22-12) at 5 p.m.

The Mystics lost both games at Madison Square Garden this season. New York is 6-2 all-time against Washington in the WNBA Playoffs.
 
In the first game, an 85-55 beatdown on July 16, the Mystics played without Elena Delle Donne and Tayler Hill. In the second game, a 74-66 Liberty win on Aug. 25, Delle Donne played her first game after missing close to four weeks with a thumb injury.
 
The winners advance to the WNBA semifinals that begin Tuesday in Los Angeles and Minnesota. 
 
The Liberty-Mystics game features former MVP winners in Delle Donne (2015) and Liberty center Tina Charles (2012). 

New York won its last 10 games of the regular season as Charles earned Eastern Conference Player of the Month honors and Bill Laimbeer was named Eastern Conference Coach of the Month for Aug. 1-Sept. 3.
 
The Liberty are in the midst of one of the most successful stretches in franchise history, having clinched a third-straight postseason berth. 

New York’s franchise record tying 10-game winning streak is the most consecutive victories a team has ever had to conclude a WNBA regular season.
 
Having won at least 20 regular season games in 3-consecutive seasons for the first time in franchise history, New York has won 66 games and compiled a .647 winning percentage over that span. 

Charles posted another MVP caliber season, ranking third in the WNBA averaging 19.7 points per game. 
 
New York once again led the league in defensive field goal percentage, becoming the first franchise in league history to do so in 3-consecutive campaigns (2015-17). 

The Liberty will be trying to purge memories of last season’s setback to Phoenix in this round of the playoffs.
 
In advancing in a playoff round for the first time since 2002, Washington tied an all-time franchise record and set a team playoff record with 52 rebounds in its win over Dallas. 

The Mystics’ 20 offensive rebounds set a new franchise playoff high. The Mystics capitalized on those rebounds, outscoring the Wings 25-15 on second-chance points.
 
The Mystics also established a new franchise playoff record with eight blocked shots.
 
Delle Donne scored a team-high 25 points, one shy of the franchise playoff record, and tied a playoff-career-high with 11 rebounds. The former Delaware star has scored at least 24 points in four of her last five games. 
 
Center Krystal Thomas set a new Mystics playoff record with 17 total rebounds. 

Forward Emma Meesseman notched her second double-double of the season (16 points, 10 rebounds). The Mystics also received a boost from guard Natasha Cloud returned to the lineup for the first time since suffering a hip injury against Phoenix on Aug. 18, grabbing three rebounds and blocking a shot in 11 minutes.
 
“I want this team to have fun and know what it feels like to make a run and play as hard as you can and see what happens,” Mystics guard Kristi Toliver said following the win over the Wings. “Because when it’s playoff time anything can happen. Anybody can beat anyone in this league on any given day and I think we proved that today and I don’t think very many people chose us to win but I think that we’re coming along and that we’re believing in the system  and we’re believing in one another and if we keep doing that anything is possible.”
 
Meanwhile, the Mercury-Sun game will be highlighted by a frontcourt matchup between Griner and Connecticut’s Jonquel Jones – the WNBA’s 2017 Peak Performer Award winners for scoring and rebounding, respectively. 
 
Alyssa Thomas and Candace Parker are the only two players in the WNBA who average over 14 points, four assists and six rebounds: Parker (17.1, 4.3, 8.4) and Thomas (14.9, 4.7, 6.8). Connecticut’s other all-star Jasmine Thomas was strong this season as she averaged 14.2 points per game. Courtney Williams is also a double-digit scorer for the Sun, chipping in 12.3 points per contest.
 
For the Mercury, Griner averaged a career-high 21.9 points to earn her first scoring title, while Jones set WNBA single-season records with 11.9 rebounds per game and 403 total boards. 
 
She was large and in charge against the Storm, scoring 23 points, grabbing 11 rebounds and blocking three shots in 40 entertaining minutes. It was Griner’s fifth career double-double. The Mercury are perfect when Griner records a postseason double-double.
 
Also in the win over Seattle, guard Leilani Mitchell was phenomenal as she scored a career best 17 points on 4-of- 9 shooting. In addition to making 3-of-6 from beyond the arc, Mitchell also added four rebounds, three assists, one steal and one blocked shots.
 
Sunday’s game also features Phoenix guard Diana Taurasi, who surpassed 1,000 career playoff points against the Storm after scoring 14 including a dagger 3-pointer late in the game. The former UConn great with 1,009 points in the playoffs ranks second all-time in postseason scoring behind Tamika Catchings (1,141).
 
The Mercury won their 17th postseason series in their 21-year history. 


This moves them ahead of the Los Angeles Sparks (16) for the most series wins in WNBA history. It was also the Mercury’s 35th playoff victory in franchise history.
 
The Mercury played its opening playoff game at Arizona State University. Though Taurasi was in foul trouble during the first half of that contest, she was her usual diplomatic self on playing at Wells Fargo Arena.
 
“I think we’ve just been in a position that we’ve played so much basketball: the hoop is still 10 feet high, it’s still a basketball,” Taurasi said. “I have to say our fans were pretty incredible today to come out, and it felt like a home court, it did. ASU did a great job of helping us out, our staff does I think the best job of putting people in the stands and making sure they’re out there
supporting us. It felt good actually.”