Monday, September 17, 2007

Congratulations to the Mercury

A year and a half ago, I decided the big question of the WNBA preseason was whether Paul Westhead's fast-paced style of play - better known as "Paul Ball" - could succed in the WNBA.

That question was firmly answered in the affirmative Sunday when Westhead's Mercury became the first team in league history to win a WNBA Championship on the road, rolling up 30 first-quarter points and never looking back in a 108-92 victory.

In that column, I concluded that, "Based on Westhead's NBA track record, it's fair to apply the same assessment to him as most any other coach: He's won when he's had talent, and has struggled when he hasn't had it."

(Then I cited Sandora Irvin, whose breakout I am still awaiting, as an example of the talent Westhead might have.)

Anyways, I don't think any of us realized back in May 2005 quite how special Phoenix's talent was. We knew Cappie Pondexter was talented, but who would have imagined she would average 23.9 points per game in the Playoffs in her second season, hit the winning shot in Game 4 of the Finals and earn Finals MVP? I've long considered Penny Taylor underrated, but who saw her playing power forward at 6-1, dealing with nasty, physical defenders and still scoring a game-high 30 points in the deciding Game 5 by shooting 18-of-18 from the free-throw line?

Looking to kill a few hours? Find a WNBA fan and debate which of the Mercury's "big three" is the most valuable. The conventional answer is Taurasi. She is Phoenix's emotional leader and without her dominant Game 2 performance, the Mercury would not have won this series. Taylor was my regular-season pick for Phoenix's MVP and I don't think Paul Ball would work if not for Taylor's ability to play out of position and score so efficiently. (Plus, is anybody in the world better at initiating contact and drawing a foul?) Then there is Pondexter, unquestionably the MVP of the Finals and Westhead's choice to create whenever the team needed a bucket down the stretch.

Maybe that discussion needs to include four players, not just three. At the start of this season, my question about the Mercury was whether they could replace the grittiness provided by departed posts Kristen Rasmussen and Kamila Vodichkova. That was never an issue, in large part because Kelly Miller had enough toughness to go for two or three teams. Westhead has described Miller as "the engine" of Phoenix's attack, and her ability to run the break is without parallel. Miller deserves to be considered the honorary MVP of sorts.

You have to give Westhead credit for his unbending faith in his system even as doubters appeared at every turn. He put his players in situations that allowed them to take full advantage of their skills and they rewarded him by embracing Paul Ball.

“People were saying, ‘You can’t win shooting threes, you can’t win playing zone, you can’t win playing run and gun,’" Taurasi said after Game 5. "But you know what? You can, and we did.”

I thought Phoenix's Game 3 loss might be one of those "what if?" games that would haunt the team for the foreseeable future. Instead, it is now the Shock that is left wondering what might have been had Cheryl Ford - who managed just 12 minutes in Game 5 - been healthy. The final possession of Game 4, which did not result in a good look with the Shock down one, is an even more direct "what if?"

I figured home-court advantage would be enough for Detroit, but the Mercury was unfazed. I should have known better. Phoenix ended the postseason 4-1 on the road with three lopsided wins, and it took foul trouble for Taurasi to produce that one loss. Truly, the Mercury earned a WNBA Championship. So did Paul Ball.

1 comment:

herky said...

yes.......congrats to the wnba phoenix mercury.......starters to bench in the westhead system.......they proved to be the champions in 2007.......

the four 2007 wnba teams competing for the conference champions in the east and west were matched tough.......hats off to the detroit shock, indiana fever, and san antonio silver stars.......they gave it all on the court in championship fashion in 2007.......

the seattle storm remained basically the same since the 2004 championship season.......the wnba teams were tougher in 2007 from top to bottom.......the top teams in the wnba in 2007 clearly distanced themselves from the wnba storm team.......as the playoffs proved.......

in 2007.......lauren jackson.......wnba defensive player of the year and wnba mvp.......stop.......consider this for a moment.......2007 most outstanding all-around wnba worker for the wnba seattle storm team).......what can a wnba and seattle storm fan say.......

in 2004.......lauren was effective leading the team to the championship from basically the 3-4 position and at the 5 when the storm 5-positon players were not consistently doing their job.......part-time.......she was helping at the 2-1 position.......

think about this.......6'5" body type that says 3 forward.......doing her job at the 3.......banging with the 4-5 position wnba players.......competing with the athletic quick tough 2-1 guards.......

question.......at what point is lauren being overworked in today's tougher 2007 wnba environment.......

question.......at what point.......should the starting 1-2-4-5 and bench 1-2-3-4-5 of the seattle storm.......step up to the court and provide more consistent qualitative and quanitative work-load minutes to help lauren jackson become more consistent and effective as a leader at the 3 position.......to the benefit of wnba fans, wnba, and the seattle storm team.......

wnba and seattle storm fan.......

herky