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.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Tina Thompson Was a Game-Changer

Guru’s note - the headline was different but since only minor changes made afterwards this was the Guru’s submission of Tina’s bio for the printed program for ceremonies inducting her 2018 class into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame at Springfield, Mass.

By Mel Greenberg


A virtual last-minute off-court decision as a collegiate senior at Southern Cal led Tina Thompson to her eventual place at this weekend’s induction to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame and the establishment of the first WNBA dynasty while a last second shot late in her career helped launch another one in the women’s pro league for a team she never played for.


Thompson arrives in a year that has already seen her enshrined in the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in Knoxville and appointment to her first head coaching job at Virginia last spring after spending three seasons on the sidelines at Texas in NCAA competition.


Back in the winter of 1997, both the then-fledgling WNBA and short-lived American Basketball League in strong competition against each other for the best of collegiate talent had Thompson as a priority on their draft lists.


As the clock ticked down to when the WNBA was to launch their first selections, Thompson nodded in their direction.


By the time her career ended in 2013 finishing out in Los Angeles and Seattle after being part of the stellar Houston Comets era, Thompson was the all-time scorer with 7,488 points, since eclipsed last year by future Famer Diana Taurasi, and 3,070 rebounds in 496 games.


She was the last of all WNBA players from the inaugural season to depart.


Van Chancellor, who had just been hired as coach from Mississippi a few days earlier, recalls the frenetic wait.


“One of the luckiest breaks I ever got in my pro career, it was Sunday afternoon, five or six o’clock, and the draft was the next morning and 9 o’clock Thompson became available,” he remembers in making Thompson the first overall pick.


(Several players such as Sheryl Swoopes, Rebecca Lobo and Lisa Leslie were allocated to teams near their natural markets.)


“We drafted her because she was a great outside shooter and Tina Thompson was tough and there’s no question in my mind she was the best post defender to ever play in the WNBA.”


Thompson completes a sweep of the Comets greats already enshrined here in Chancellor, Swoopes, and Cynthia Cooper-Dyke who were the mainstays of Houston winning the first four WNBA crowns from 1997-2000.


“On the other team, whether it was Lisa Leslie, Yolanda Griffith, Kym Hampton, she guarded the other team’s best inside scorer and she was a tremendous scorer, rebounder and smart as a coach,” Chancellor said.


“It’s unbelievable how tough Tina was as a basketball player. She was the total package. In the gold medal game I coached in Athens in 2004, we put her on the block and she was a force there,” he added.


“Her ability to score, the intelligence, the ability to defend, the ability to pass, it’s unbelievable what she meant to Houston franchise.”


A Los Angeles area native in Culver City who played her high school ball at Morningside in Inglewood, the 43-year old Thompson is one of five siblings with two brothers and two sisters and she has a 12-year-old son, Dyllan.


At Southern Cal (1993-97), she was fifth on the all-time scoring list when she graduated with 2,248 points besides grabbing 1,168 rebounds.


Former Trojans coach Marianne Stanley, now an assistant with the WNBA Washington Mystics, jokes about recruiting her but departing before Thompson arrived on campus.


“Obviously to achieve the status to be acknowledged and recognized by the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, you have to be a tremendous competitor,” Stanley said.


“And one of the things about Tina that I always felt was special was she was a fierce competitor, as fierce as they come. And she combined that with a skillfulness that was unusual for a lot of the power forwards in her time.


“She could shoot the three from anywhere. If there was a four-point shot back when she played, she’d be hitting four-point shots all day long. She really opened up change for a lot of power forwards into the game — not just the back to the basket player, not to be rebounders, but to be face up players to be feared,” Stanley said.


“She was one of the players that people feared when she got on the court because anything inside half court, Tina was taking that shot and knocking it down and in that way she got the game evolved for power forwards.


The thing I think though that really set her apart was being one of the fiercest competitors,” she added.


“One of the best players I got to recruit at USC but never got to coach, which is a shame I never had that opportunity, but the other thing I think that’s really important for Tina is she has a legacy in the WNBA that sometimes she and her teammates and coaches don’t get the acknowledgement, because they won four championships.


“She was a big part of the success of the Houston Comets and I think the WNBA should make sure that they keep that history so players like Tina Thompson are being recognized and remembered as a tremendous talent that they were.”


Thompson grew her game though being undersized at 6-2 defending against many post stars.


“As post players, we get comfortable in our little box and we don’t want to move so much,” Thompson told the Daily Progress in Charlottesville following her hire at Virginia. “But the harder I’m going at you, the quicker you have to react, and the tougher you have to be to combat what I’m bringing.”


Debbie Ryan, who coached Virginia in a stellar career that ended before Joanne Boyle succeeded her and left last spring creating the vacancy for Thompson, remembers the USC star in NCAA competition.


“Tina Thompson is so deserving of this incredible honor, the Naismith Hall of Fame,” Ryan said. “She was a constant example of how the game should be played and she has cemented her legacy as one of the best to ever play the game of basketball.


“Tina was able to dominate the game as an undersized, hard-working post player. She owned the paint at every level and has set a very high bar for every player who will follow her.”


Thompson was a nine-time WNBA All-Star, including MVP honors in the game in 2000.


Besides her USA Olympic gold medals in 2004 and 2008, internationally overseas Thompson won titles in the Russian, Euro and Romanian National Leagues.


Taurasi, who now owns the all-time WNBA career scoring mark, says of her rival and teammate over the years, “Whatever I say, underestimates how much she’s meant to my basketball career and to a lot of people’s basketball careers over the years.


“She’s been the first person I’ve ever been around — on the Sparks, playing in Russia, and on the Olympic team — her approach to the game is like no others,” the Phoenix star observed.


“I’ve always wanted to be as tough as Tina. Whatever game we played, she was always tough as nails. She was always the rock to all those great teams, whether it was the Olympic teams, the Houston teams, and those overseas teams.


“Everyone wanted to be like Tina.”


As for that last second shot mentioned here earlier: In 2010 right near the end of the season, Los Angeles and Minnesota, both with mediocre records, played a game that was going to send the winner to the playoffs and the loser to the lottery.


The Lynx went ahead with four seconds left but after a timeout Thompson fired a long-range bullet that clinched a tiebreak and playoff berth for the Sparks after both teams finished 13-21.


As for Minnesota, the Lynx in the lottery landed the top pick and chose UConn’s Maya Moore, who also will be celebrated here one day in the future.








Thursday, September 13, 2018

WNBA Playoffs: Seattle Handles Washington For 3-0 Sweep and Ends Eight Year Drought With Third Title

By ROB KNOX

@knoxrob1

 

FAIRFAX, Va. – Clutching a bottle of champagne, Alysha Clark needed to rest.

 

With white plastic covering dressing stalls and champagne corks scattered around its cramped locker room, which resembled an overcrowded freight elevator, the veteran Seattle Storm guard sat alone in a corner despite all of the triumphant celebrations and interviews occurring throughout the tiny facility.

 

The need for a break was understandable as Clark orchestrated a masterful performance. 


In scoring 15 points and grabbing nine rebounds in 38 entertaining minutes, Clark helped the Storm finish a three-game sweep of the game Washington Mystics with a 98-82 victory at EagleBank Arena on George Mason’s campus Wednesday night.

 

This was Seattle’s third championship and first since 2010.

 

Once the final buzzer sounded, Seattle players stormed the court in a flood of delightful delirium of hugging, jumping, dancing and high-fiving.


 Following the on-court presentation in which several Storm players posed with the trophy, cried, laughed and interacted with fans, they retreated to their champagne-soaked locker room to continue celebrating. Players wore black championship hats, goggles and shower caps.

 

“It’s surreal,” said Clark surveying her jubilant teammates. “I still feel like I’m in a dream right now. I’m like, did this really happen? It’s amazing opportunity. We did it. You work so hard for this as an athlete and a lot of people don’t ever get to this point. To know that we are here and that we won and that we did it, it’s a tremendous feeling.”

 

The history books will forever show that WNBA Finals MVP Breanna Stewart scored a game-high 30 points and Natasha Howard added a monster double-double (career-high 29 points and 14 rebounds). The opponent-wilting duo were impossible for the Mystics to contain during the WNBA Finals,  especially in the third game. 

 

The special storyline was the timeless Sue Bird winning her third WNBA championship at age 37. She finished with 10 points and 10 assists, including a 3-pointer with 54.5 seconds remaining that cemented the Storm’s title.

 

However, a closer forensic analysis reveals that Clark’s fingerprints were everywhere on this victory. 


From flying out of nowhere to grab rebounds, trapping aggressively on double-teams, setting teammates up for easy basket and making timely shots, Clark did all the small things that all championship squads crave.

 

When the Mystics, who got 23 points from Elena Delle Donne and 22 points from Kristi Toliver, closed to within 72-67 with 6 minutes, 49 seconds remaining following Tierra Ruffin-Pratt’s 3-pointer, Clark’s hustle and timely contributions silenced the clusters of red-towel waving and screaming fans.

 

With Washington displaying a reservoir of confidence after slicing a 16-point deficit at the beginning of the fourth quarter and riding enough momentum to extend the series, Clark took control, fueling a 90-second burst of brilliance that turned a tense five-point game into a comfortable 80-67 bulge with five minutes remaining.

 

Clark started the surge by making a pair of plays that won’t ever show up on the stat sheet.  

 

Behind Clark, who forced a Washington turnover with an aggressive trap and threaded an assist to Sami Whitcomb, the Storm engineered a final scoring run that put the Mystics championship dreams to rest.

 

“We stayed in the moment when they cut the lead to five,” Clark said. “We knew they were going to make a run at us. Sami has been a plug for us off the bench all year and anytime she shoots the ball, I always believe it’s going in so I wanted to get her going. We also had to stay focused on the little things and keep pushing.”

 

The Mystics have nothing to be ashamed of. There are still plenty of glowing embers in the ashes of defeat. They enjoyed a season of countless thrills and historic achievements.

 

In losing to the better team, the Mystics still tied a franchise record for regular season wins and advanced to the WNBA Finals for the first time in their history. 

 

They scored the first four points of the game.


 Unfortunately, even after playing with ferocious desperation throughout the contest, Washington never led after Howard tied the game at 4-4 with 7:03 remaining in the first quarter. Clark’s 3-pointer with 5:11 left in the opening period gave the Storm the lead for good, 13-10.

 

Delle Donne, who averaged 16.6 points in the Finals while playing with a bruised knee, hit a driving layup with 4:47 left in the fourth quarter to surpass 500 career playoff points.

 

Mystics rookie guard Ariel Atkins finished the postseason with a WNBA rookie record 137 points scored, including nine in Game Three against Seattle. 


Atkins, a former Texas star with the Longhorns, scored at least 15 points in six of nine games this postseason.

 

“I don’t think we played our best basketball in the series, but Seattle is a great team,” Washington guard Natasha Cloud said. “They were the whole year. 


They did everything they needed to do to win the championship so congratulations to them. I’m proud of this group and how we played this year. We rebuilt this team last season and we’re already a championship-caliber team and I think that speaks a lot of volume. We’ll get back. We’ll refocus. We’ll fix things that we need to fix. We’re going to be back here.”

 

 

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

WNBA Playoffs: Back With a Home Crowd in the House, Washington Seeks to Avoid a Seattle Sweep

By ROB KNOX

@knoxrob1

 

Even though the commute is a little further, the Washington Mystics are happy to be back in semi-familiar surroundings. 

 

They slept in their own beds. Cooked in their own kitchens. Saw the wonderful sights of the nation’s capital while driving across the Anacostia River to George Mason University for its shootaround and Game Three of the WNBA Finals presented by YouTube TV. The game will be televised on ESPN2 at 8 p.m. Wednesday night. 

 

Trailing two games to none, it’s a must-win game for the Mystics when they host the Seattle Storm at Eagle Bank Arena on GMU’s campus in Fairfax, about a 30-minute trip from Capital One Arena, where the Mystics played all of their regular season home games. Washington played its three prior home playoff games at George Washington’s Smith Center. 


The Mystics should get a boost from the crowd.

 

With a victory, the Mystics will force a fourth game on Friday night also at 8 p.m. First things first, the only thing that matters is Wednesday.

 

Leave it to Kristi Toliver to be succinct when asked about the Mystics mindset during Tuesday’s media availability session.

 

“Win,” Toliver said. “That’s it. It’s pretty simple. It’s win or we go home. I think we’re just a resilient group. We want to continue to play, and obviously when you’re playing for a championship, there’s a lot on the line. It’s when you’ve got to be at your best.  

 

“When our backs are up against the wall, we’re going to come out punching and hopefully do the right things, and take it one game at a time.”

 

The Mystics are 5-1 when facing elimination over the last two years.


 Two of those elimination games were on the road in New York last year and Atlanta in the fifth game of the semifinals last week. Washington, who trailed Atlanta 2-1, has demonstrated that it has championship hallmarks of pride, passion, poise, resilience and perseverance. 

 

Washington rebounded from losing the opening game, 89-76, by throwing a super-sized scare into the Storm before falling, 75-73, on Sunday. Though there’s no moral victories in the WNBA Finals, the Mystics brought plenty of positives with it across the country that provide optimism that Wednesday’s result will be different.

 

“We learned a lot in that game,” Washington forward Elena Delle-Donne said. “We obviously made some changes from the first game that were effective, and today we’re still making changes. 


“It’s a chess match in these series. You’ve got to make changes and then you’ve got to be able to adapt throughout the games. We’re excited. We’re glad to be home. What better place to take care of business than at home.”


Earlier in the day, Delle Donne and Seattle’s Sue Bird were announced as part of the 16-member finalist roster for the USA Women’s World Cup team.

 

Meanwhile, all Seattle did was protect home court. 

 

The Mystics are capable of doing the same thing especially if they find their groove from 3-point distance. 


Washington is 3-of-37 in the series after an 0-for-16 effort from beyond the arc in Sunday’s second game. Those two games are an anomaly for the Mystics, who were one of the league’s best three-point shooting squads during the season.

 

“Our season’s not over ending on an 0-for-16 three-point shooting night,” Toliver said. “We’ll be back. We’ve got a lot of great shooters and a lot of confidence. Granted, it’s a new building, but shooters can shoot anywhere.”

 

Washington head coach Mike Thibault remains confident in his shooters.

 

“That’s our identity,” Thibault said. “We have a lot of good three-point shooters. Elena [Delle Donne] and Kristi [Toliver] and Ariel Atkins, Tianna Hawkins, they’re all top-level, top-10 three-point shooters.


“You can’t go away from their strengths. We tried to balance offense the other night. We got inside and outside, and we scored in the paint more than we had in a long time, but we just didn’t knock down shots that we normally make.”

 

Meanwhile, the Storm are close to their third championship in franchise history, though the title would be the first for Dan Hughes, who came out of retirement to take the Storn job this season. He is also one of Dawn Staley’s USA assistants on the USA World Cup roster as is Minnesota Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve, and George Washington coach Jen Rizzotti.


Breanna Stewart, the league’s MVP is averaging 23.5 points per game for the Storm.


 With one more victory, Stewart will enter a pantheon of greats that have won a NCAA championship, Olympic gold medal and a WNBA championship. She is already the only human on the planet to be named the Final Four Most Outstanding Player four times as her UConn team won NCAA titles in that string.

 

The Storm are focused and prepared for the Mystics attack. 

 

Seattle was in a similar situation – up two games – in its semifinal series against Phoenix.


 The Mercury won both of its home games and led for much of the fifth game before the Storm rallied to win the series.

 

“It’s going to be similar to game two,” Stewart said. “They were desperate to come out and be different than game one, because game one did not go the way they wanted it to. 


“We are prepared for their punches and are ready to punch them back. It’s a matter of playing consistent for 40 minutes. This is a big game and having the experience of doing it before on many different levels definitely helps. 

 

“It’s coming in here having the confidence of knowing what we need to do and doing it. We know we don’t want to go back to Seattle to play. We want to bring the trophy back to Seattle.”

 

  

Friday, September 07, 2018

WNBA Playoffs: Kristi Toliver Keeps Washington Focused As Mystics Make First Championship Series

by ROB KNOX

@knoxrob1

 

Kristi Toliver understands that the Washington Mystics journey isn’t finished. 

 

The fun is just starting.

 

While, the Mystics are in the WNBA Finals for the first time in franchise history, Toliver is keeping her squad focused on the prize. 


The former Maryland great, who gained fame with her three-point shot forcing overtime that led the Terps over Duke to their only NCAA title, arrived to the Mystics after helping the Los Angeles Sparks win the championship two years ago. 

 

“I wanted to make history, and we were able to do that by reaching the Finals, but it’s certainly not the ultimate goal,” Toliver said following the Mystics practice Thursday at Key Arena. “There’s still work to be done, but it feels good to be a part of something special and a part of something new.”

 

The Washington Mystics will face the Seattle Storm in a best-of-five series beginning at Key Arena Friday night (9 p.m., ESPN News). Game two is Sunday afternoon at 3:30 p.m. in Seattle at 3:30 p.m. (ABC). 

 

The Mystics will host games three and four at EagleBank Arena on George Mason’s campus on Wednesday and, if necessary, next Friday in Fairfax,Va. Both games start at 8 p.m. If a fifth game is needed, it will be back in Seattle. All three games will be televised on ESPN2.


With the home court, that began at George Washington’s Charles E. Smith Center because of renovations at Capital One Arena and then moved to George Mason because of a later seating capacity at 10,000, the Mystics are providing free shuttle service from the end-of-the-Orange Line stop in Vienna to the Arena on the Patriots’ campus.

 

Seattle will look to become the sixth franchise in league history to win at least three WNBA championships. The Storm won the championship in 2004 and 2010. 

 

The Mystics will look to do what the Washington Bullets did 40 years ago – beat Seattle for a title. Led by Wes Unseld, the Bullets beat the Super Sonics in seven games in 1978.


The Storm won the season series, 2-1, as each team won at home. Washington won the most recent meeting, 100-77, at Capital One Arena on Aug. 9. Elena Delle Donne scored 30 points in that victory. 

 

Delle Donne, who averaged 29.5 points and 6.5 rebounds against Seattle this season, didn’t play on May 29 when the Storm earned an 81-77 victory. She had 29 points in a 97-91 loss to the Storm on July 8. Both games were in Seattle where the Mystics haven’t had much success lately. 

 

The Storm has won 14 of the last 15 home regular season games against the Mystics, a hot streak dating back to 2006. Washington’s only win during that stretch was an 84-82 overtime triumph in 2016. The Storm won all three home games against the Phoenix Mercury in the semifinals. 

 

Delle Donne also played in the 2014 Finals as a member of the Chicago Sky. Despite being swept by the Mercury, Delle Donne averaged 15.3 points, scoring 22 and 23, respectively in the final two games of the series. She was dealing with a sore back in the Finals against the Mercury juggernaut that lost five regular season games.

 

“Kristi [Toliver] and I have both been in the Finals, we’ve been leaders of this team and have just been trying to make sure everyone is focused, staying light, having a good time and spending time together, not just on the court but off the court,” Delle Donne said. “We had a great team dinner last night and we’re ready to get to tomorrow and start this thing off.”

 

Delle Donne has a double-double in every playoff game this season. 


She missed the third game of the semifinals against Atlanta with a bone bruise in her knee. Delle Donne played in the last two games of the series, helping the Mystics rally from a 2-1 deficit. While not 100 percent, her presence made life easier for the rest of her teammates.

 

“Even with her being out on the court, you still have to respect and guard her,” said a smiling Latoya Sanders following the Mystics game four win over Atlanta last Sunday. “She is still Elena. Her presence on the court gave people open shots. She’s a great rebounder. She’s still working her way back and I think she’ll get better day by day.” 

 

Saint Joseph’s alum Natasha Cloud has handed out at least five assists in five of the Mystics six playoff games. She’s also 10 for 20 from 3-point distance. 


Rookie Ariel Atkins out of Texas scored 20 points in the fifth game against the Dream on the road. It was a signature moment in what promises to be a memorable career for seventh overall first round pick, who also finished with seven rebounds against Atlanta. 

 

Tianna Hawkins and Tianna Ruffin-Pratt energized the Mystics off the bench in the fifth game against the Dream by combining for 22 critical points. 

 

Washington may be inexperienced on the Finals stage, but it is motivated and determined to bring another championship to the nation’s capital. Already in 2018, the Capitals and Valor have won championships and now the Mystics are excited to join that club.

 

“We’ll just keep reminding them of the specifics that we need to maintain throughout the game to try and get a win,” said Delle Donne on her message to her teammates. “We will focus in on the process and what we can do in the moment. 


“You can’t look too far ahead or behind, you have to be in the moment. Everyone has done a great job so far with their nerves this series. We’ve had a few one-and-done games so we’ve had some nerve-wracking series games so far and hopefully we can build on those.”

 

NOTES: Either Washington head coach Mike Thibault or Seattle head coach Dan Hughes will win his first WNBA title. 


The all-time winningest coach in WNBA history, Thibault reached the finals twice before with Connecticut in 2004 and 2005 before falling just short. The 2004 loss came against Bird and the Storm. Hughes, who came out of retirement this season and is also an assistant to Dawn Staley on the USA World Cup squad, lost in 2008 when he was coaching in San Antonio. The Silver Stars lost to the Detroit Shock.

 

   

 

 

 

    

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

WNBA Playoffs: Ageless UConn Alum and League Vet Sue Bird Has Made it Back With Seattle to the Championship Finals

By ROB KNOX
@knoxrob1

Proving that age is just a number and a state of mind, Sue Bird’s gorgeous game continues to stand the test of time like a fine merlot. 

One day the basketball world will be grateful to Bird for her contributions to the sport once she’s inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame. She’s a 10-time All-Star, five-time All-WNBA selection, four-time Olympic gold medalist and two-time WNBA champion.

A shrine of brilliance, Bird is back in the WNBA Finals presented by YouTube for the first time since 2010 and third time in her storied career. 

The Seattle Storm will face the Washington Mystics in a best-of-five series beginning at Key Arena Friday night (9 p.m., ESPN News). Game two is Sunday afternoon at 3:30 p.m. in Seattle at 3:30 p.m. (ABC). 

The Mystics will host games three and four at EagleBank Arena on George Mason’s campus on Wednesday and if necessary next Friday in suburban Fairfax, Va. Both games start at 8 p.m. If a fifth game is needed, it will be back in Seattle.

Seattle will look to become the sixth franchise in league history to win at least three WNBA championships.

Meanwhile, Washington is making its initial trip to the WNBA Finals for the first time in franchise history. The Storm won the season series, 2-1, as each team won at home. The Mystics will look to do what the Washington Bullets did 40 years ago – beat Seattle for a title. Led by Wes Unseld, the Bullets beat the Super Sonics in seven games in 1978.

Playing like she's bathing in the fountain of youth, the 37-year-old Bird helped the Storm return to the WNBA’s biggest stage following a mesmerizing fourth quarter performance for the ages against the Phoenix Mercury and former UConn teammate Diana Taurasi in the decisive fifth game of an amazing WNBA semifinal series Tuesday night

Competing with ferocity, tenacity and fearlessness, Bird scored 14 of her 22 points in the fourth quarter.

 Bird’s scoring show, in which she also made four three-pointers, almost broke Twitter as the social platform went berserk.

 Thanks to Bird, Seattle set franchise records for points in a playoff game (94) and quarter (35), outscoring Phoenix 35-21 in the last 19 minutes. 

This finals trip is special for Bird, who will playing with a mask like she did in the 2004 Finals when the Storm beat the Connecticut Sun, thanks to a broken nose suffered in game four of the semifinals against the Mercury when she caught an elbow from teammate Breanna Stewart, another all-time UConn star.

“I think it’s because you never know when you will get back,” said Bird following Thursday’s practice. “In that same quote I talked about how in 2004, I was young, I was 23, it was my third year in the league when we made the Finals and I thought we’re probably going to do this all the time, and it didn’t play out that way. 

“In 2010, it felt a little sweeter because you never know when you will get back. What’s different know is that I’m 37, we were in a rebuild a three years ago, so I didn’t even think this was in the cards for me. That’s why this one is different.” 

Remember, Bird sat out the entire the 2013 WNBA season after undergoing surgery to remove a cyst from her right knee so that’s why she’s savoring this opportunity. It was a season to cherish for the Storm, who earned the No. 1 seed with a 26-8 record. 

Prior to this year, the Storm missed the playoffs twice and had a pair of first-round playoff exits.

Bird isn’t showing any signs of slowing down anytime soon. Still zipping around the court like a toddler at recess, the New Yorker is still performing an elite level.

The WNBA’s all-time assist leader has spent her entire career with Seattle raising the bar of excellence for the point guard position and the league.

 Despite being named one of the 15 greatest WNBA players in league history, Bird never takes a possession off, playing like a rookie trying to make a lasting impression.

She has always been about doing whatever the team needs to win. 

While still a formidable force, Bird has enjoyed helping Seattle’s young core of Stewart, Jewel Loyd out of Notre Dame and Jordin Canada out of UCLA develop.

 In the win over the Mercury in the fifth game, Bird got help from Alysha Clark, who had a double-double (13 points, playoff career-high 13 rebounds) and Sami Whitcomb (playoff career-high 11 points, four assists).

“Obviously for this group (being in the WNBA Finals is) a brand-new thing,” Bird said. “You can pull from your experiences but you obviously have to understand that just because it went one way in 2010 and 2004, has nothing to do with 2018.

“In 2010 the Finals were a five-game series but this year the semifinals and finals are (both that long), and it went to Game 5, so for me it was unique for me, even though I’ve bene here before.” 

Bird hasn’t shared much about playing in the WNBA Finals because she believes the Storm gained tremendous experience against the Mercury. The Storm won a game in overtime, lost a pair of games on the road, including one when it led by 17 points, and rallied from a third quarter deficit to win a fifth game against an experienced team. 

She believes her favored team is more than ready for the challenge of facing the Mystics. 

“We talked in the semifinals and I think that was a great experience for our team to have to gut it out in a game five and have to find a way to win,” Bird said. “To have tough losses in games three and four. Those were tough losses. Also to win in a tough manner. These are all experiences that you try to put into words but until you feel it you won’t know. Some ways I’m really thankful we did all that in the semifinals and now we can take that with us to the Finals.”    

Wednesday, September 05, 2018

WNBA Playoffs: Washington Tosses Adversity Aside And Slips Past Atlanta to First-Ever Finals And Face Seattle

By ROB KNOX 
@knoxrob1

During a season of tension, turbulence and triumph, the Washington Mystics thrived in the face of adversity.

 Now, they are headed to the WNBA Finals for the first time in franchise history.

Using a committee of contributors and sticky defense when it mattered most, the Mystics transformed Georgia Tech’s McCamish Pavilion into a tabernacle of gloom after defeating the Atlanta Dream, 86-81, in the decisive game of an intense WNBA semifinal series Tuesday. 

It was a special moment for a franchise that had struggled for most of its existence. 

“We're here because we're persistent, we're resilient, we played together,” Washington head coach Mike Thibault said following the biggest win in Mystics history. “Almost every time we've been challenged this year, there have been injuries early in the year or the tough losing streak before the All-Star break, we've had a bounce back. 

“Tonight, they came back and took the lead on us, and the bounce back came back again. 

“These guys here, they've been spectacular. That's all I have to say. I mean it’s a great accomplishment for our franchise, the first time ever to go to the finals, so these players have a lot to be proud of.”

Washington captured the series, 3-2, to set up a WNBA Finals matchup against the top-seeded Seattle Storm, who rallied at home and beat Phoenix, 94-84, to also win its series in five games. Game one of the best-of-five series is Friday at 9 p.m. (ESPN News). 

Washington’s two home games in the Finals will be played at EagleBank Arena on the campus of George Mason on Wednesday, Sept. 12 and if necessary Friday, Sept. 14. 

Both games will begin at 8 p.m.

This season was different thanks to talented group of gritty, hard-working and confident players that believed in each other during a magical performance  in which they tied a franchise regular season for wins with 22. 

Combining heart, depth, determination and passion, the Mystics enjoyed an ocean of options that made the difference throughout a splendid run, especially down the stretch.

Through times of cramping muscles and bone-weary fatigue, through body-banging bouts beneath the boards, through knee-skinning scrambles for steals and loose balls, the Mystics developed a belief and trust in one another that was on display in the steamy and savage cauldron of an enemy environment. 

Rookie Ariel Atkins, a first-round draftee out of Texas,  took an elbow to the face and continued scoring, rebounding and diving on the floor for loose balls. 

Elena Delle Donne bounced back from a painful bone bruise to record consecutive double-doubles for the Mystics, who rebounded from a 2-1 series deficit to eliminate the Atlanta Dream. 

“She gives me a lot simply because of who she is,” Atkins said of Delle Donne. “If you've ever been around her she's one of the best people, in my opinion, in the world. 

“To have someone like that on your team is so genuine and to be who she is and to be Elena Delle Donne, it's amazing and anything that I can do to take the pressure off her during the game is what I'm going to do.”

Tianna Hawkins bounced back in a big way to finish with 17 points. She sparked the Mystics late in the third quarter, scoring eight consecutive points with two 3-pointers and a fast-break layup that turned a 61-59 deficit into a 67-61 lead for Washington. 

Atkins, the seventh-pick in this year’s WNBA Draft, led the Mystics with 20 points.

 While the points were key against the Dream, Atkins hustle was the difference. She had six rebounds in the third quarter. Veteran Kristi Toliver, a member of the Sparks championship team in 2016, added 19 points. Delle Donne had another double-double (14 points, 11 rebounds).

Natasha Cloud, the Mystics’ emotional leader, had seven rebounds, five assists and seven points in 32 minutes. It was Cloud’s fifth game with at least five assists. 

Cloud, the Saint Joseph’s grad out of Cardinal O’Hara in the Philly suburbs, played a game this year with a kidney stone. Latoya Sanders conquered anemia during preseason and missed a few games at the start of the year. 

The Mystics had a team meeting after a 26-point loss to Connecticut in its final contest before the WNBA All-Star Game. Washington won eight consecutive games immediately after the All-Star game to earn the No. 3 seed. 

“Take pride in your defense,” said Toliver of the message of the meeting. “We talked specifically about four things we were going to do, and we have done them. I think we stick to that. We kind of make a commitment to one another and we do that, and we put ourselves in a good position.”

Following a regular season game against the Dallas Wings on August 12, Cloud spoke of her belief in her teammates that they can do something special.

“I texted Elena on our off day after we came back from Phoenix on a red-eye,” Cloud said. “My body feels like it got hit by a truck, I am super sleepy and I am hangry. 

“But all I could think about was we can do this. We are a good team and this league is open enough. This could be our year to bring a championship back to D.C. We are all in that belief right now and we’re speaking it into existence.” 

Three more wins and Cloud’s vision will be a reality. 



Tuesday, September 04, 2018

WNBA Playoffs: Natasha Cloud Also Influenced By Geno’s High School Coach Buddy Gardler

By ROB KNOX

@knoxrob1

 

WASHINGTON – Natasha Cloud didn’t have to hear it.

 

The Washington Mystic veteran guard already knew. 

 

While Cloud’s 13 points, five assists and four steals were critical components of the Mystics 97-76 WNBA semifinal victory over the Atlanta Dream on Sunday Sept. 2, she also turned the ball over six times. 

 

“If he was here today, he would be like six turnovers for real?,” said Cloud, smiling and shaking her head imagining another lecture from one of her basketball mentors. “Tasha, are you kidding me, get your stuff together. 

 

“I would’ve probably responded with, ‘I got you B.G.”

 

She’ll never hear that deep-bass voice again of legendary Cardinal O’Hara boys basketball coach Buddy Gardler, who died last month after a lengthy illness and was a considerable influence on Cloud’s basketball maturity at  the school in the Philly suburbs. 

 

“He would always get on me in class and say you’re an athlete but that doesn’t mean nothing if you can’t read a book or pass a class,” said Cloud, who had Gardler for English class at O’Hara. “So you have to buckle down when it comes to school work because your talent is going to shine for itself. This one hit hard for me.”

 

Cloud was close with Gardler’s family because she was a high school teammate with his daughter, Megan, who went on to play at UConn. They are best friends. She spent lots of time at the Gardler house eating, laughing and absorbing information like a sponge from Gardler. 

 

Meghan was at George Washington’s Smith Center watching the Mystics extend their season with the victory in game four.

 

“To get a text from (Buddy’s son) Chris Gardler after I texted them and sent my condolences and have him say to me how proud his dad was of me was special,” Cloud said. “It made me realize how important I am to people back home but also how important people back home were important to my career, and my development as a player and a person.”

 

The 26-year-old Cloud, who finished second in the Most Improved Player of the Year voting, has enjoyed a breakout season for the Mystics, who are one win away from advancing to the WNBA Finals for the first time in franchise history. 

 

The Mystics and Dream meet Tuesday in Atlanta in the decisive fifth game of an intense series. The game will be televised on ESPN2 at 8 p.m. 


The winner advances to the WNBA Finals against the survivor of the Phoenix-Seattle series. The fifth game in that series is in Seattle beginning at 10 p.m. (ESPN News and NBA-TV).

 

Cloud enjoyed her share of highlights this season, which included a dramatic buzzer beater to beat the Los Angeles Sparks on Friday, Aug. 17. She hit a fadeaway jumper over WNBA Defensive Player of the Year Alana Beard. The shot came two days after Gardler’s passing.

 

In the two Mystic wins in this series, Cloud scored a playoff career high 13 points in each contest. Including the playoffs, Cloud has scored in double figures 13 times. Her importance is illustrated in that the Mystics were 2-4 when she missed games this season in which Washington tied a franchise record with 22 victories.

 

Coming into the season, Cloud knew this would be a big year for her. Thanks to confidence from the coaching staff, Cloud has delivered, matured and blossomed into one of the league’s most popular players. 

 

Cloud has matured and a symbol of her growth is tatted on her right arm in the form of colorful roses that she will eventually develop into an arm-length sleeve. 

 

“I have three roses and they all represent different distinctions,” Cloud said. “When you’re younger, you make mistakes. You’re figuring out who you are and blossoming into who you want to be. My third one is dark and it’s a mature stage where I feel I am at now and being myself and finding out exactly who I am and being comfortable in my own skin.”

 

Cloud loves having fun. Before a regular season home game against Dallas on Sunday, Aug. 12, a young fan presented Cloud with a drawing of her. Cloud was speechless and just wanted to take a picture with the young artist.

 

Beneath her angelic smile, defense, passion and energy, Cloud has been playing with a heavy heart for quite some time during her four-year WNBA career. 

 

While Gardler’s death hit Cloud hard, she also honors her late grandfather before every game. He died in 2016. 

 

“Before every game during the national anthem, I say my prayers and put everything up to my grandfather,” Cloud said. “Family is a huge part of what I do and why I play.


“I am always conscience and aware of them when I am on the court. Whether it’s my Saint Joseph’s roots, Cardinal O’Hara roots, Delaware County roots, I am embedded in that family. I always put family first. It’s a huge part of who I am. It is who I am.”