Cash Grabs the Consolation Prize
San Antonio, Texas - On a weekend dedicated to celebrating the league’s history, it seems fitting that it was capped off by making some history of its own.
At the conclusion of the entertaining 2011 WNBA All-Star Game – which the Eastern Conference won 118-113 over their Western Conference counterparts – Swin Cash was named the game’s Most Valuable Player.
The numbers definitely back her up as Cash had game highs in both points and rebounds as she posted the game’s only double-double with 21 points and 12 rebounds. One problem. She played for the losing team.
“I’ve never really heard of that,” said East forward Tamika Catchings.
In the league’s nine previous All-Star Games, the MVP came from the winning squad, which seems natural. However, on Saturday, in a game that was close from the opening tip to the final buzzer, the votes swung to Cash.
Saturday’s game featured 28 ties, 25 lead changes and neither team held a lead greater than five points, which was also the final margin of victory.
Since this is the historical weekend, let’s look back a little All-Star history to put this game in perspective. Coming into Saturday’s game, the average margin of victory in the All-Star Game was 11.9 points, with only four games settled by single digits. The 2007 game remains the smallest margin of victory, with the East winning by just four points.
Jump back to 2011 and with neither team dominating the game, the amount of MVP candidates does not narrow itself down to the clear-cut winning team. With the game still hanging in the balance until the final minute, voters chose the player with the most dominant stat line, regardless of the result.
Cash, who was voted in as a starter for the West, wasted little time racking up the points. In the first two minutes of the game she had five shot attempts, one make, two free throws and three rebounds. When she exited the game midway through the first quarter she already had eight points and four rebounds. She finished the first half with 14 points and seven rebounds, well on her way to a double-double.
“I was just playing my style, I get up and down the floor, I run, try to get easy baskets and just have fun,” said Cash. “And I did that today and fortunately I was able to get MVP again. It’s just a blessing, it really is.”
However, many observers thought she had the look of a player aiming to win the MVP trophy from the moment she stepped on the court. Cash disagrees.
“No, I had the look of someone trying to win the game, and fell short on that, so I guess the MVP is the consolation prize,” she said with a laugh.
Instead it is her instinctive competitive nature that propelled her to such a great game against the top talent in the league.
“It’s just one of those things that I’m such a competitor when I step on the floor,” she said. “You know we all have fun, but you guys see how it is, come the fourth quarter we’re trying to go at each other’s necks, we want to win the game.”
By winning her second All-Star MVP award on Saturday, to go along with her 2009 trophy, Cash became just the second player in WNBA history to win multiple All-Star MVPs. The other is Lisa Leslie, who still holds the edge with three pieces of All-Star hardware.
Leslie can relate to Cash’s plight of having no “off” switch when it comes to basketball.
“I really struggled with playing basketball for fun,” said Leslie, who was honored as one of the league’s top 15 players at halftime. “I only knew how to play one way and that's to play hard and I think you get the same thing from Swin Cash.”
It’s not that she didn’t try to relax and enjoy herself.
“You come out and you think you’re just going to have fun and then you catch and elbow and then next thing you know it’s like wait, what, let me go get that rebound or let me go put it back and it just sort of snowballs from there,” Leslie said. “I used to run the court and I had great point guards in Dawn Staley, Michele Timms, Sue Bird throwing me passes so I start running the floor a little harder and next you thing you know its a double-double and well you get crowned with the trophy and I loved it.”
As opposed to her first All-Star MVP in 2009, this time around, Cash seemed to deflect some of the MVP spotlight, perhaps disappointed by the fact that her team did not get the win like it did two years prior in the last traditional East vs. West All-Star Game.
“I think so many players played well, it could have been anyone,” she said. “I thought Rebekkah Brunson played well tonight.”
Brunson was the West’s other strong MVP candidate as she finished with 20 points on 9-for-13 shooting, nine rebounds and three steals. The East had MVP candidates of their own, although their attack was very balanced with six players scoring between 11 and 17 points.
The leading candidate for the East was Cappie Pondexter, who finished with a team-high 17 points and a game-high-tying seven assists, with none more important than the pass that led to the game-winning 3-pointer by Katie Douglas in the game’s final minute.
However, she doesn’t seem too broken up about not winning the award.
“I really don’t care,” she said. “I won the game. For me it’s about the wins, that’s how you know you’ve done your job.
“That was our game plan from the beginning we wanted to win the game,” she continued. At practice we talked bout that. And we played well enough to put kind of put ourselves in a position to win.”
While Pondexter and the East now hold the bragging rights in the battle of the conferences, it’s Cash who takes home the title of the star of stars on this day.
Not a bad consolation prize.