Cappie Pondexter scored 20 of her game-high 26 points in the second half, including the game-winning basket with 21.7 seconds remaining.
Jeffrey Bottari/NBAE/Getty Images
With their season on the line and trailing 74-70 with 2:15 remaining, Cappie Pondexter led the Mercury on a 7-2 run to close out the game and force Game 5 of the WNBA Finals on Sunday night.
Pondexter scored four of the seven points – including the game winner with 21.7 seconds left on the clock – and assisted on the other basket, a three-pointer by Kelly Miller.
“We call Cappie ‘The Closer,’ ” said Diana Taurasi. “That’s ‘The Closer.’ All year she’s been closing it out in tough games like this. Tonight she was amazing.”
Pondexter says she lives for these types of situations and always wants the ball in her hands in the final minutes of a tight game.
“It’s just the mentality that I have. I’m a winner,” she said. “I love to win. And when the game's on the line, I feel like I can win every time.”
So do her teammates. Earlier in the Finals, Taurasi jokingly described the Mercury’s half-court offense as “getting out of Cappie’s way.” During final 2:15 of Game 4, each offensive possession started with Pondexter controlling the ball up top and making a play for either herself or a teammate.
The first play of the stretch was for her teammate, as she drove the lane, drew all of the Detroit defenders to her and kicked it out to Miller for an open three-point shot.
In the final minute of the game, Pondexter took the shots on her own. Her first shot was blocked by Deanna Nolan, but Pondexter recovered, picked the ball out of the air and immediately went up with a baseline jumper to give the Mercury a 75-74 lead.
After Nolan answered with a jumper of her own with 41.9 seconds left, the Mercury did not call timeout, they just put the ball back in Pondexter’s hands with their season on the line.
Pondexter drove the lane and pulled up for a nine-foot bank shot that fell with 21.7 remaining. After a great defensive possession forced an off-balance shot by Shannon Johnson that missed, the Mercury celebrated their 77-76 victory that earned them a return trip to Detroit for Game 5.
“She was incredible,” teammate Penny Taylor said of Pondexter. “She was so aggressive taking the ball to the basket. She really attracted their whole team to try to stop her. Twice she took it all the way and made huge shots and once she found Kelly Miller for an open three and Kelly made a massive shot for us.”
“Cappie was a monster,” added Taurasi. “She made every play down the stretch. We just hopped on her big back, her big booty and just rode it home.”
While Pondexter’s biggest heroics were saved for the final two minutes of the game, she was the focal point of the Mercury attack for the entire second half, in which she scored 20 of her game-high 26 points.
“I think about 80 percent of the possessions in the second half were going through her hands. We made that decision at halftime.” said Mercury head coach Paul Westhead. “We made that decision because we have great faith in her ability to take the ball hard to the basket and make something happen.”
Pondexter listened to Westhead’s halftime advice to be more aggressive and clearly took it to heart.
“Sometimes I’m so unselfish, so I’d pass it,” she said. “Coach would tell me, ‘Be aggressive. Be aggressive. Don’t pass up the shots. I don’t care how many shots you take, just go.’ I just took it all in and soaked it up and I was able to make some things happen.”
Shock coach Bill Laimbeer decided not to double-team Pondexter in the second half and praised her play after the game.
“Our guards are outstanding defenders. I thought Pondexter made some big shots,” he said. “They were very well contested, (but) that's what great players do. They make great shots. And give her all the credit in the world.”
After coming through in the clutch to give the Mercury another game to play on Sunday, “The Closer” may need a repeat performance if Phoenix is to dethrone the defending champs.
So what is Pondexter’s opinion on the nickname that Taurasi has given her?
“Dee’s been saying that all year,” Pondexter said. “I haven’t even seen that show. She is crazy. I might have to watch it overseas. It’s a long seven months, so maybe I can catch up and understand what ‘The Closer’ is.”
Pondexter doesn’t need the DVDs of the TNT series to understand what “The Closer” is all about. All she needs is to pack a copy of tonight’s game.