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.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

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




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.”




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