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“Now, That’s More Like It”

So this was the game we were waiting for between Phoenix and Minnesota. The one that felt like a collection of future Hall of Famers trying to out-do each other. The one that had the fans on their feet, screaming their heads off, while the folks watching on television probably felt like they were right there in the thick of it, too.

This is what we thought these Western Conference finals — between the two best teams in the WNBA — would be like. That Friday’s game really wasn’t like that is a tribute to the Mercury. That Sunday’s game did live up to that billing was a tribute to both teams.

Writes Tim Leighton of Twin Cities:

There it sat Sunday, in the middle of the Minnesota Lynx locker-room floor. No player, coach or member of team management got too close for fear of disturbing its aura. The Lynx’s WNBA championship trophy, with its three silver spires holding a basketball, stood as a simple reminder that the Lynx aren’t ready yet to call it a season.

Tom Powers offers this nice turn of phrase:

Lindsay Whalen and Seimone Augustus joined Moore in forming a deadly Game 2 Bermuda Triangle. The trio combined for 72 of the 82 Lynx points. As Reeve often notes, it’s mostly about the stars come playoff time. And the Lynx had all three of theirs shining brightly.

“We always say great players make great plays,” said Augustus. “And you saw that through the night. Great players made great plays for us.”

Kent Youngblood at the Star Tribune:

Sunday, midday, the Lynx players were in the locker room for a film session. Coach Cheryl Reeve walked in clutching the 2013 WNBA championship trophy.

She walked over and had Janel McCarville pull on the trophy. Reeve let go, easily. “We can do that,” she said. Then Monica Wright gave it a tug. Reeve held on a little longer, let go. “We can do that,” she said. Then she went to Rebekkah Brunson. Only this time, Reeve took hold with two hands and tore it away.

“It’s ours,” she said. “And we’re not letting it out of here.’’

And then Reeve put the trophy on the floor in the middle of the room and walked out.

Message received.

From Nate Sandell, “special” for the AZ Central folks: 

“Their defense picked up and we stood around,” said Mercury coach Sandy Brondello. “We’re a team built on ball movement, but somebody would get the ball and everybody would stand and just have a look at that person trying to make the play.”

It was a dramatic reversal for the Mercury, whio had proved to be better team for the first seven quarters of the series.

 

From the other Nate: Seimone Augustus caps off Minnesota comeback to win Game 2, 82-77

All-Stars Maya Moore and Lindsay Whalen made big plays throughout Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals, but fellow Olympian Seimone Augustus was ultimately the hero of the Minnesota Lynx’s 82-77 win over the Phoenix Mercury.

With the game tied at 75 apiece, Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve called an out-of-bounds play that had Augustus follow Moore around a screen to clear space for a mid-range jumper and Augustus not only converted the shot but also drew a foul for a three point play that put the Lynx up for good.

 

But the Lynx wouldn’t even have been in position to win had it not been for the play of Moore and Whalen prior to that moment.

From Canis Hoopus’ John Meyer: 

Midway through the third quarter, Maya Moore had a look on her face that said it all. Not today, Phoenix. Not today.

Moore scored a game-high 32 points, including 19 second half points, to help keep the Lynx title hopes alive this afternoon at the Target Center. The Lynx struggled earlier on – shooting 14.3 percent in the first quarter (2-for-14) – and faced an uphill climb trailing 22-9 entering the second quarter. But there was no quit in this squad.

Awwwwww….Little League star Mo’Ne Davis adds Game 2 visit to dream summer

In the “other” series, Indiana Fever rookie Maggie Lucas isn’t easing off throttle now

It was mere minutes after the Indiana Fever had beaten the Chicago Sky 77-70 to open the best-of-three Eastern Conference finals Saturday night. Maggie Lucas could have been reflecting on the moment, considering how necessary her eight points turned out to be for the Fever.

Instead, she was in the locker room afterward, lifting weights. She is a “gym rat,” coach Lin Dunn said. First one to arrive, last one to leave.

Michelle writes: Sky’s fate rests with shooting stars – Chicago needs to solve Indiana Fever defense in Game 2

Indiana, led by the defensive stalwart Tamika Catchings, made it tough for Delle Donne to get in any offensive flow. The 12 shots she took were the fewest she had taken in a postseason game.

“The first thing is trying to figure out a way to keep the ball out of her hands,” Catchings said. “Not just me, individually, but as a team. We tried to take the ball out of her hands, make it difficult for her to catch it, and when she did, we brought different people out.

“We can do a lot better too.”

Delle Donne and the Sky are thinking in the same terms.

From Brian Sandalow at the Sun-Times: Sky still trying to figure out Fever

While the Sky aren’t fixating on their history with the Fever, they’re aware of it.

“I think everybody kind of thinks about it,” guard Courtney Vandersloot said. “It’s not something that we really talk about a lot, but it’s something that I’m sure we all think about. We know who we’ve lost to in the past.

Philip Hersh at the Tribune writes: 

It’s pretty easy to see why the Fever won Saturday night’s opening game of the WNBA Eastern Conference finals 77-70.

Indiana caught the Sky with their guard(s) down.

Indiana’s starting backcourt of Briann January and Shavonte Zellous was simply too much, with its outside shooting and dribble penetration shredding the Sky’s defense.

The Fever guards utterly outplayed starting guards Epiphanny Prince and Courtney Vandersloot, both ineffective for the second game in a row.

In the Dishin & Swishin 08/29/14 Podcast: WNBA Eastern Conference Finals coaches Lin Dunn & Pokey Chatman talk about the playoffs

Nate reflects back: 

You can never force the circumstances that create a classic moment in sports, which is part of the very reason we tune in and watch instead of just ignoring games with long odds or abandoning teams that seemingly have no hope.

The best moments are those that somehow manage to define the odds, whether evolving or preceding the first tip and the 2014 WNBA Playoffs has already produced a classic in the first round.

What might be hard to appreciate in retrospect about the Chicago Sky’s dramatic 81-80 win in Game 3 against the Atlanta Dream is that it really seemed like that game was over long before the fourth quarter began.

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Bill Wall has died. From USA Basketball CEO/Executive Director Jim Tooley:

The entire USA Basketball family mourns the passing of Bill Wall.  Bill was a treasure to the basketball community worldwide, someone who gave much more then he ever received back. His passion for basketball, as a player, coach, official and as an administrator, was evident to anyone who met him, and his efforts helped grow the game to the popularity it enjoys today.  He became this organization’s first executive director in 1975, and in the 18 years he served in that position he helped transition ABAUSA (Amateur Basketball Association of the United States of America) into USA Basketball. Under Bill’s leadership, USA Basketball was recognized as one of the premiere national federations and Bill from the early years on was a true advocate for women’s basketball.  Bill Wall will be missed and our thoughts and prayers go out to his family.”

Bill Wall did not lead a controversy-free life (in the land of basketball) but if not for his American Express Card, it’s likely the US women’s team, which surprised most by making it to the Montreal Olympics in 1976 – including the USA Basketball Olympic Committee – would have had to walk to Rochester for their practices or called their parents for care packages. From Sally Jenkins’ 2012 article in the Washington Post: Women’s Olympic success: a flood that began as a trickle (apologies for the long quote, Sally, but I hope you believe Bill deserved it):

This is how it happens: A dozen women, isolated outliers, are so committed to playing for their country that they will practically starve for the honor. The first American women’s basketball team in ’76, captained by Pat Head Summitt and featuring Ann Meyers Drysdale among others, had a budget of $500. They held training camp in an unairconditioned gym in Warrensburg, Mo., because it was the cheapest facility they could find, and they begged meals from the rotary club.

“We’d do anything for free food for the team,” Moore says.

Bill Wall, the executive director of USA basketball, stepped forward and put up his personal credit card to support their attempt to make it into the Montreal Games. When they won the qualifying tournament, they were such a surprise that nobody had made any accommodations for them.

They found an empty dormitory that was under construction at the University of Rochester, and bunked there for a few days amid the sound of hammering. Then they moved into a two-bedroom condo in Montreal someone had found them — 12 players and the coaching staff. Some of them slept on cots in the kitchen. “And no one complained,” Moore says.

Speaking of no complaining. With the injury to Indiana Pacer player Paul George during the men’s tryouts, the NBA folks are wondering if they dare risk their… players (I was going to use another word, but I won’t) in the quest for Olympic Gold. Out poured articles like “Should NBA stars play in FIBA World Cup, Olympics?” and Why is Rose still playing USA Basketball?” and “Dallas Mavericks owner Cuban criticises sending NBA stars to the Olympics” and “When ‘Patriotism’ and NBA Marketing Collide with Reality and Basket Stanchion” etc., etc.

Sure, John Smallwood counters with Mark Cuban has it all wrong and Harvey Araton counters with his piece, Cuban Loses Sight of the Role of International Play – In Paul George Remarks, Mark Cuban Discounts Benefits of International Basketball, but honestly, was anyone surprised at the response of the USA Basketball women? Nope!

Tamika Catchings has known Paul George since he was drafted by the Indiana Pacers in 2010.

She was sickened when she heard the news that he broke his right leg on a freak play during the U.S. men’s national team scrimmage Friday. Still, the Indiana Fever star has no hesitation about suiting up for the women’s national team again this fall.

“I don’t think it gives me a second thought,” said Catchings, a three-time Olympic gold medalist and two-time world champion. “For me representing our country is the highest honor you can have. I know I speak on behalf of all the women, and I’m sure the men too, who are trying out, it’s an unfortunate injury that can happen anywhere.”

Catchings’ thoughts were echoed by U.S. women’s national team players across the country over the weekend.

Speaking of USA basketball – part of the 1976 team’s legacy is the success of the women’s programs: next up, the U-18-ers in Colorado Springs for the FIBA Championship: nm

“I think we are getting excited,” Staley said about the upcoming tournament. “We have beat each other up in the morning practice and then depending on who we scrimmaged, either we were getting beat up, or we had some pretty good competition in some of the other national teams. I think we want to play for a stake, for a gold medal. That’s why we are here, so we are getting a little bit antsy about playing the real competition.”

Now for some good news:

NY Times: Spurs Hire Becky Hammon as N.B.A.’s First Female Full-Time Coach and KSAT.com: Spurs tap Becky Hammon for assistant coach and Spurs Nation: Hammon overwhelmed, thrilled and humbled by historic opportunity and  USA Today: Spurs hire Becky Hammon as assistant coach and NESN: Becky Hammon Hiring Keeps Spurs Ahead Of Curve in NBA, Pro Sports World

From Kate Fagan: Becky Hammon was born to coach

If you know Becky Hammon, one thing has always been clear: she would become a coach after she finished playing.

We all figured it would be for the Colorado State women’s basketball program, her alma mater, the school she put on the map in the late 1990s with her sweet outside shot and clever ball handling. In fact, there were even rumblings around Fort Collins back in the day that the CSU athletic department had made some sort of handshake, wink-wink deal with the dynamic local star: The moment you retire, we’ll have an open spot in the athletic department — guaranteed.

The reason we all knew Hammon would become a coach is actually quite simple. She could see a play once and know all its options and offshoots, categorize them from most to least effective. And she could do this for every position on the court, instantly — as if the X’s and O’s had been coded into her DNA. Most of the time, the team’s head coach approached Hammon for her insight — rarely was it the other way around.

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