On To the Conference Finals
Prepare for the Storm.
by Clay Kallam
It’s going to be hard to top Game 3 of the Indiana-New York series, but the WNBA conference championships actually might. There are two intriguing match-ups, big personalities and, if first-round attendance is any indication, there will be large crowds as well.
But enough of appetizers… on to the meat and potatoes.
Phoenix vs. Seattle
By record, this should be a rout. Seattle was 22-2 on July 31, while Phoenix struggled to win 15 games in a full season. Even worse for Mercury fans, the Storm was 5-0 against Phoenix this year. So why should anyone try to find NBA TV for Thursday’s 10 p.m. game?
First, any game with Diana Taurasi playing has possibilities. She might get 40, she might get two Ts, she might elbow someone, she might flip off the crowd – and she might make two or three great plays in the clutch that would make people forget Cappie Pondexter (at least until she plays again on Sunday).
Second, the Mercury’s style guarantees lots of points, and if nothing else, it’s fun to watch players like Taurasi, Penny Taylor, Lauren Jackson and Sue Bird show off their skills. Oh, and speaking of Jackson, she describes herself as grumpy, and there’s always a chance that she and Taurasi will forget about their Russian friendship and show off their cantankerous sides.
Jackson is also the league’s MVP (well deserved, though Tamika Catchings and Pondexter could both have won and no one could complain), and Brian Agler is the Coach of the Year, which is further evidence that Seattle should roll.
The X factor, though, is Kara Braxton, who, at 6-5, is a serious mismatch for Seattle center Camille Little (a generous 6-2). Braxton, however, is as inconsistent as Seattle’s summer weather, so what Corey Gaines and company need is for her to have two big games – and for the Mercury to win both.
Casual observers may think this should be an easy 2-0 romp for the Storm, but I’m thinking Seattle in three. And the winner in each one will hit triple digits.
Atlanta vs. New York
Weird. This one doesn’t even start until Sunday (7 p.m., NBA TV), and the Western Conference finals could be over by then. But a league like the WNBA doesn’t have a lot of arena leverage, so it takes what it can get.
In any event, this too should be a very fun series. Atlanta has wings Angel McCoughtry and Iziane Castro Marques, both of whom are just as likely to go 5-20 as 10-20 – but you can count on the “20” portion.
McCoughtry is also an elite defender, and it’s likely she’ll draw Pondexter, though Marynell Meadors may start the very athletic Armintie Price and put her on Cappie. (Meadors, if nothing else, has Anne Donovan thinking. By starting two players who hadn’t started all season in both games of the Washington series, Meadors has planted seeds of uncertainty. She could go with Coco Miller and Price again, or bring back 6-5 Erika DeSouza to take advantage of Janel McCarville’s ankle injury. Or maybe Shalee Lehning returns to guard Leilani Mitchell …)
Of course, if Essence Carson and Kia Vaughn both play as they did in the first round, McCarville’s absence and Nicole Powell’s inability to make her presence felt may not matter. Then again, if McCoughtry and Castro Marques make their shots, the Dream may simply outscore New York.
There is one thing, though, that will turn the series. In a close game, Pondexter will very likely make the shot that needs to be made, no matter who’s guarding her. And since these two evenly matched teams will probably play close games, Pondexter the closer will be the difference – though it will take three games to play out.