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 03, 2018

WNBA Playoffs: Delle Donne Returns and Spurs Washington to a 2-2 Semis Tie And Decisive Game 5 in Atlanta




WASHINGTON – Playing with savage fury and desperation, the Washington Mystics celebrated Elena Delle Donne’s return to the lineup by pulling away late to defeat the Atlanta Dream, 97-76, in Game Four of an intense WNBA semifinal series at the Charles E. Smith Center on George Washington’s campus Sunday afternoon.


Six players reached double digits in scoring for the Mystics as they knotted the best-of-five series at two games each. The decisive fifth game will be Tuesday night in Atlanta at 8 p.m. on ESPN2. 


Delle Donne is fine after missing Friday’s third game with a bone bruise in her left knee, one that was the center of attention prior to Sunday’s tipoff. 

Armed with television cameras, high-definition cameras and iphones, a gaggle of photographers treated Delle Donne’s knee like one of the many Washington tourist attractions by forming a semicircle around it during pregame warmups.


Delle Donne, who had a bag of ice wrapped around her knee during the postgame press conference, looked comfortable during the game in finishing with 15 points and 10 rebounds in 33 entertaining minutes. She has a double-double in every playoff game she has played in this season.


“My knee feels awesome,” Delle Donne said. “We live to play another day. Just rest, recover and get ready for the next one. The two main recovery things have been the hyperbaric chamber and flow tanks. Just finding a way to get as much rest and recovery as I possibly can in a small amount of time. Tons of ice.”


Meanwhile, Kristi Toliver and rookie Ariel Atkins relentlessly and fearlessly attacked the Dream’s interior defense consistently during the game. Toliver found her scoring touch to finish with a game-high 22 points while Atkins contributed a career playoff high 19 points. Latoya Sanders added 10 points and seven rebounds for the Mystics.


“It was a great win. It's nice to see six people in double figures,” Washington head coach Mike Thibault said. “I thought our bench, Myisha Hines-Allen, [Tierra] Ruffin-Pratt, and [Aerial] Powers gave us a big lift.

“Kristi and Elena are really stars but you look around and you see the other three that are out there in the starting lineup. Ariel Atkins during that little run hit two huge threes to kind of pull open the game. LaToya [Sanders] does what she does, she can be a lot of help on getting some calls.”


While Delle Donne’s appearance provided the Mystics and the 3,722 fans in attendance a jolt of energy, Saint Joseph’s grad Natasha Cloud was the catalyst – especially on the defensive end -- for the Mystics being able to keep their championship dreams alive.

 Cloud scored 13 points, tying a career playoff high, and recorded five assists. This was Cloud’s third game this postseason with at least 13 points and five assists.


A bundle of disruption with larceny in her heart, Cloud also had four steals including one in the first quarter that fired up the already frenzied throng. She jumped high in the air, deflected a Tiffany Hayes pass, grabbed the ball, raced to the basket, scored and got fouled. Cloud let out a loud scream and flexed her toned arms that gave the Mystics an early 9-7 lead.


“It was a win or go home game,” Cloud said. “We knew we had to defend at a high level today. 

“For me, I knew I had to try and take Tiffany Hayes out of the game. To be able to get back to my roots and be a defensive minded player was good. That allowed my defense to bring my offense. That’s the mindset I had today; so to start off with a key defensive play was the perfect way to start the game.”


Once the defensive tone was established, Cloud showcased her expanded offensive repertoire with a devastating burst to begin the second half. 

Washington led 44-35 at intermission.

 Cloud exploded out of the locker room with eight quick points (including a pair of 3-pointers) in the first two minutes, 30 seconds of the third quarter. Overall, the Mystics made six 3-pointers in the third quarter.


Despite Washington’s accuracy and 16-point bulge it built, the Dream pulled closed to within, 62-57, with 2:11 remaining in the third quarter following a Renee Montgomery 3-pointer. 

Might the home team start a slide into oblivion? Nothing doing.

It was all Mystics from there as they unleashed a dynamite finishing kick to earn another flight to Atlanta. 


Montgomery led the Dream with her first career playoff double-double (12 points and 10 rebounds). Brittney Sykes, Tiffany Hayes and Jessica Breland all scored 12 points for the Dream. Monique Billings and Alex Bentley had 11 points each.

The Mystics have never reached the WNBA finals in the franchise's 21 seasons. In fact, these are the first two wins they’ve ever had in semifinals play.

Atlanta remains one victory away from the franchise's fourth finals appearance and first since 2013.

“Amazingly, we did a lot of things well tonight at the offensive end,” Atlanta head coach Nikki Collen said. “We just didn’t guard, and guarding is a staple. 

“It is what got us to this seed and certainly what is going to propel us forward if we are going to come back and bounce back and get a win in Game Five. I think it was a couple things: you can’t win a playoff game and shoot 50 percent from the foul line.”