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.

Monday, September 11, 2017

WNBA Viewpoint:Toliver's One-Woman Show Fuels Washington Rally Over New York To The Semifinals

By ROB KNOX
@knoxrob1
 
OMG. Kristi Toliver. Wow. 
 
Toliver found the zone, never left it, and because of it the Washington Mystic’s magical playoff ride continues following an 82-68 victory over the New York Liberty at Madison Square Garden Sunday afternoon.
 
Toliver’s ridiculous 32-point performance and WNBA-playoff record nine 3-pointers were a spectacle that reduced the Liberty to unwilling spectators. She went berserk on Broadway. It was epic, ridiculous, amazing, special, and left everybody in awe. 
 
“I’ve never witnessed something like that, but to be on court and be on the right side of it was unreal,” Washington’s Elena Delle Donne said. “We just rode her weight today. She was unconscious. But that’s her - I grew up watching her. 

“That was her in the national championship game,” Delle Donne said of the former Maryland star whose three-pointer in regulation at the buzzer in Boston sent the Terrapins into overtime against then-arch-rival Duke when the Terrapins prevailed in the all-Atlantic Coast Conference final for their first NCAA title in 2006. 

“When she’s going off like that, we just do all the little things and let her go...offensively, she took over. We have such great players - we have two dogs in Krystal (Thomas) and Tierra (Ruffin-Pratt). We even said, ‘We follow your lead and your grit’, so they absolutely changed the tone of the game in that way, and she took over the rest.”
 
The sixth-seeded Mystics (20-16 overall) begin the best-of-five semifinals Tuesday against the top-seeded Minnesota Lynx (27-7). That contest along with Thursday’s second one will be played at the University of Minnesota’s Williams Arena. The Mystics will host the third game at the Capital One Arena Sunday at 3 p.m.
 
The fifth-seeded Phoenix Mercury (20-16) and second-seeded Los Angeles Sparks (26-8) will meet in the other semifinal series. In winning Sunday, the Mercury and Mystics overcame first-half double-digit deficits.
 
Prior to her Fourth-of-July-like fireworks explosion, Toliver had made 10 3-pointers over the Mystics last six games. She was 1-for-9 from 3-point distance in the Mystics’ first round win over the Dallas Wings last Wednesday. 
 
The basket looked as big as the Hudson River especially in the third quarter when Toliver outscored the Liberty, 15-10. She made five 3-pointers in the decisive period.
 
“That was my biggest fear going into this game, (Kristi) Toliver making the ungodly shots that she does every now-and- then,” New York head coach Bill Laimbeer said. “We were in her space for a vast majority of those. She played great. She made all the big shots. 

“Any opening that she had, she released it quickly before we can get a hand on the ball and they went in. Great players do that and she was one of the big differences in the game but not the only one.”
 
Toliver’s effort resembled Reggie Miller’s fourth quarter in the game five of the 1994 Eastern Finals when he detonated for 25 points. Only people missing were Spike Lee and Marv Albert.
 
The Mystics’ offseason moves have paid dividends in the first two rounds of the playoffs. Delle Donne scored 24 points in the win over the Wings. Toliver, who helped the Sparks win the WNBA title last season, was the difference as her unconscious shooting ended the Liberty’s 10-game winning streak.
 
Delle Donne and Toliver are reasons why the Mystics can win a championship. 

They are game-changing talents who play with tremendous heart, tenacity and poise. It will be a challenge to face the Lynx and deal with their multitude of weapons in MVP candidate Sylvia Fowles, Maya Moore, Lindsay Whalen, Seimone Augustus and the list goes on.
 
“The greatest thing about Kristi is that, as a general rule, you can miss shots early and that doesn’t change her mindset,” Washington head coach Mike Thibault said postgame. “I think that to win at this level, to win big games, you have to have several players – we’ve got two of them right here - who don’t mind taking pressure shots. 

“You can’t be shy about the situation and I think that speaks to their level of play, and is certainly why I spent most of the winter trying to figure out a way to get them. The credit is all theirs for coming out and believing in what we’re doing.”
 
The Mystics have also benefitted from the return of guard Natasha Cloud. The Saint Joseph’s graduate has solidified the Mystics defense and against the Liberty, she was a major nuisance. 

Teaming with Ruffin-Pratt, who had nine rebounds and made some big shots in the win over the Wings, and Thomas, the Mystics are formidable.
 
Washington has faced its share of adversity this season.
 
I was there in Indiana when Tayler Hill’s season ended with a torn anterior cruciate ligament. The Mystics’ locker room postgame resembled a morgue as players spoke in hushed tones despite a blowout victory. 

They absorbed a 30-point beating at Madison Square Garden in July, lost Delle Donne for most of August, and dropped four of their last five games entering the playoffs.
 
Yet, the Mystics are still playing and one of four teams with an opportunity to win a championship.  
 
The regular season means nothing. Washington lost all three games against the Lynx this season, but many games have been competitive throughout.
 
For example, this was the first time Minnesota swept a season series with Washington since 2014.

 Minnesota won the three games the season by an average of 18.6 points per game. The Lynx outscored Washington 48-16 in the paint in the last matchup on Sept. 3. Minnesota has now outscored its opponents in the paint in 17 out of its last 19 contests.
 
In averaging 13.6 points per game against the Lynx this season, Toliver had 20 points in last week’s regular season finale against the Lynx.
 
“For us, it’s been crazy because the second we started getting momentum together, I hurt my thumb,” Delle Donne said. “But she’s such a knowledgeable player - and at times she’s quiet - but this is a whole new her. This is playoffs her. We call her ‘panda’, so this is ‘Playoff Panda.’ She’s such a great leader and such a knowledgeable player that I feel like just being on the court with her, I’ve learned so much. 

“We’re still learning one another games. I’m starting to know what she likes, she knows what I like and we get each other in those right spots.

“We just have fun playing together. It’s a blast. She’s unreal. To be on court with someone of that caliber but also with that leadership and that knowledge - it makes things easy for us.”
 
Especially when she’s shooting lights out like Sunday.