Cappie Pondexter shows off her new hardware, the Finals Most Valuable Player award and the WNBA championship trophy.
Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE/Getty Images
After a dominant performance in Game 4 in which she scored 26 points -- including the game-winner with 21 seconds left -- to lead Phoenix to a home win, Pondexter was perhaps even more clutch in Game 5, posting 26 points and handing out 10 assists.
"This (MVP award) has never been more deserved," said teammate Diana Taurasi after the game. "Cappie is one of the best players in the world and she showed that today."
"The last two games, Cappie has been just unstoppable," chimed in reserve guard Kelly Mazzante, who added a series-high 12 points on Sunday. "She has carried the team and has been such a tough competitor."
There has been a considerable amount of talk this season about Phoenix's three-headed offensive monster of Pondexter, Taurasi and forward Penny Taylor. But despite great Finals performances by all three, it was the smallest who stood out.
"Truly Cappie Pondexter is our MVP of this series," said head coach Paul Westhead, "and that's a special honor when she surrounded by names like Taurasi and Taylor and the player our team would probably say is the most valuable, Kelly Miller."
"Paul put this team together with the kind of players he wanted," said Mercury GM and FIBA Hall of Famer Ann Meyers. "But Cappie raised her level of play so much in the playoffs. It was just unbelievable."
Much was also made after Game 4 when Westhead told reporters that he made a decision at halftime to run 80 percent of the team's offense through Pondexter in the second half. It was hard to fault his decision, despite the fact that he also had Taurasi and Taylor in his arsenal. But apparently it wasn't as newsworthy a decision to the Mercury.
"Game 4 wasn't the first time when Paul ran the offense totally through Cappie," Meyers said today.
"We've been doing that all year long," added Taurasi. "She's the closer. She's Mariano Rivera. She plays for the Yankees. We rely on her to make plays for us at the end of the game."
But what makes Pondexter such a clutch player? Aside from the obvious ice water in her veins, it is her remarkable maturity, especially at such a young age, that is perhaps most astounding, says Westhead.
"The day she showed up from Rutgers, she was ready to go. It was obvious to me that Vivian Stringer had done a great job with her and she was a mature player from the get-go. Her rookie year, she learned the league a little bit, but she didn't learn her game. She already had her game.
"But this year," he continued, "we just put her in the position to make big shots at the end of games and that was a step forward for her … but she was ready all along."
Particularly in the Mercury's run-and-gun offensive approach, Pondexter's style of play and quickness also play a role in giving her the edge when the game is on the line.
"She is one of the few players in this league who, when you get her the ball, is going to go right at you and score," Westhead said. "It's not like you need to get her open, she doesn't need a pick, she doesn't need people to help her out. She just needs the ball and a little bit of space and she's going to create an advantage on her own."
And Pondexter isn't shy about taking control as the seconds tick down.
"I want to win," she said after posing for photos with the championship trophy and her MVP award. "Nine times out of 10, I'm gonna win. I just love that situation. It gives me this special feeling. I love the looks on my opponents' faces."
But this deadly scorer with an aggressive streak isn't all about crushing her opponents. She has a soft side, too.
She constantly made reference to her brother in postgame interviews, she said she'd give her MVP trophy to her mom for safe-keeping and she had a positive message for young female basketball players. "Keep believing," she said. "Never let anyone tear your dream down. Be the best player you can be and learn every day."
After Sunday's win in Detroit, Pondexter will head back to Phoenix for a victory parade in the next few days, but could join the U.S. National Team, with Taurasi, as soon as Wednesday. But the future wasn't on Pondexter's mind in the afterglow of her Game 5 victory.
"I'm a champion now. I can say it. I can brag now. It feels great. I've worked extremely hard my whole career and today it has come to fruition and I am extremely happy.
"We're the world champions of 2007. And nobody can ever take that from us."