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.

Wednesday, September 05, 2018

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


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. 


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