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.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

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




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.”