Pondexter Ejected in Return to Phoenix
More to the story?
By Ben York / @bjyork
“Change alone is eternal, perpetual, immortal.” – Athur Schopenhauer
Prior to the Phoenix Mercury’s game against the New York Liberty tonight, Cappie Pondexter was one of the most beloved Mercury players in franchise-history.
Though, the warm, fuzzy feelings that Mercury fans carried for Cappie Pondexter were certainly put to the test with 9:06 left in the 3rd quarter.
But, I digress…
Tonight marked Pondexter’s first return to Phoenix since moving to New York in the off-season by way of a three-team trade that brought Candice Dupree to the Mercury. Pondexter was originally selected by the Mercury as the No. 2 overall pick in the 2006 WNBA draft and averaged 19.2 points and 4.1 assists in her four years in Phoenix helping the club to two WNBA Championships (2007, 2009).
The emotional night at US Airways Center began with a video montage of Cappie Pondexter highlighting her four years in a Phoenix Mercury uniform before Mercury President Ann Meyers Drysdale presented Pondexter with her 2009 WNBA Championship ring to a standing ovation from the home crowd.
Needless to say, the moment in and of itself was undeniably special. But, an unpleasant incident early in the 2nd half changed everything. Literally, everything.
Penny Taylor, one of the kindest human beings on the planet and Mercury fan-favorite, drove the lane for a lay-up in the opening minute of the third quarter when Pondexter came in behind her in an attempt to block her shot. Whether incidental or not, Pondexter hit Taylor across the face sending Taylor to the ground hard. Penny has been raked across the face numerous times in the previous two years so Diana Taurasi quickly ran to check on Taylor. Surprisingly, there wasn’t an immediate effort by Pondexter to see if Taylor was alright. Taurasi was hit with an elbow by Pondexter on her way to Taylor. Taurasi, along with Taylor, immediately went over to Pondexter when Taurasi was hit with another shove in the throat by Pondexter. Tempers quickly flared in the ensuing scrum and shoving match. In the aftermath, Pondexter was ejected with a flagrant 2 foul and Penny Taylor was assessed a technical for her role.
Keep in mind; basketball is a contact sport. It’s nothing out of the ordinary for players to get upset during the game and for emotions to run high. I’m not going to get into the guessing game or put forth any conspiracy theories, but this had a different feel to it. And let’s not forget there are two sides to every story.
Perhaps most surprising was how quickly the situation escalated along with how unexpected the confrontation was. As previously mentioned, Pondexter received a standing ovation from the Phoenix crowd as well as from the players themselves before the game. Seemingly, it was what everyone expected her return would be – kind of strange but exciting at the same time.
But a hard foul put a damper on what otherwise was a fantastic basketball game.
All the requirements for a memorable game were there. Coming into tonight, Phoenix featured the WNBA’s most potent offense scoring 92.3 ppg. However, in 13 years playing the Liberty (27 games) Phoenix has never scored over 100 points against New York. They had also lost six straight games while New York rode a three-game streak.
Ironically, the players featured in the blockbuster trade (Cappie Pondexter, Candice Dupree) shined the brightest in the first half. Pondexter carried the Liberty with 21 points, 5 rebounds, and 3 assists while Dupree scored 13 and grabbed 5 rebounds for the Mercury. 13 Phoenix turnovers would lead to 18 points for the Liberty, keeping the score closer than it probably should’ve been; New York would’ve been in a world of hurt without Pondexter’s offense; the team hit just 9 shots from the field while Pondexter made 8 on her own. Heading into half-time, fans were expecting a dynamic shoot-out between the two teams.
Alas, the outcome was a bit different.
Phoenix ended up opening a big lead over the Liberty in the 2nd half that reached 23 at one point. The Mercury would go on to win the game which bumped them into 2nd place in the Western Conference and snapped their losing streak. Tangela Smith moved into 5th place on the all-time WNBA scoring list surpassing legend Sheryl Swoopes – a major accomplishment. Diana Taurasi set a franchise-record by reaching double figures in scoring in 37 consecutive games.
Unfortunately, this game will be remembered for other reasons.
It was difficult to assess how the players and coaches felt after the game. Cappie Pondexter didn’t make herself available to the media for questioning and many of the Mercury players preferred to let the incident speak for itself. It was clear the most important thing for Phoenix was simply to come away with the win. From both teams, not much was said regarding the blow-up in the third quarter.
“I didn’t see it,” Liberty head coach Anne Donovan said regarding Pondexter’s ejection. “I need to review it.”
The Mercury focused on the importance of the win and chalked everything up to the emotions of the game.
“It feels great to finally pull one out,” Candice Dupree said. “The last couple of losses have only been by a couple points. We kind of got over the hump tonight.”
Both Diana Taurasi and Penny Taylor downplayed the issue and were excited with the team’s overall play.
“Sometimes it’s just part of the game,” Taurasi said. “You get over it and you move on.”
In the end, we probably won’t ever know what happened or transpired behind the scenes – and it’s not our place to find out. This isn’t TMZ and we don’t pretend to be.
It’s just too bad that it overshadowed what could be a turning point in the season for both teams.