And On The Seventh Day, We Rest
EDEN, August 29 -- The first book of Genesis tells us that the world was made in six days. So, too, was the first round of the 2007 WNBA Playoffs (and they were excellent in every way).
Just six days and eleven games into the postseason, we have already seen heroic individual performances, dramatic comebacks and epic games that have become instant classics (of, dare I say, "Biblical proportions"). We have also been treated to three deciding Game 3's (for the first time since 2004), the first-ever triple overtime playoff game and even the resurrection two All-Star forwards from potentially season-ending injuries. We find ourselves in the midst of a grand saga, experiencing the glory of the most exciting postseason in the 11 year history of this league. (Oh, happy day!)
|After six days of creating a wonderful playoff story, Indiana's Tamika Catchings deserves a rest.|
|Jeffrey Bottari/NBAE/Getty Images|
This game will not be remembered for who won or lost, ultimately (the Sun did win), but for the two monster shots that DeForge drained. The first was to force overtime and the second was to force double overtime. She hit a clutch shot to draw her team back every time the Sun got out to a lead. But she couldn't do it alone. After missing nearly the entire second half of the season, Tamika Catchings played in 46 of the game's 55 minutes and posted 14 points and 20 rebounds.
So how would Catchings fare just two days later after not playing for more than a month? (Just fine, thank you very much.) On the third day, the Fever returned home tired, but squashed any momentum the Sun had and blew them out by 19 points. Once again, DeForge shouldered the scoring load, but Catchings did her part (15 and 13). So with a trip to the Conference Finals on the line in Indiana on the fifth day, no one expected the Connecticut Sun to build another 20-point lead (they did).
But once again, the Comeback Kids responded, rallying from 22 points to pull off the greatest comeback in WNBA playoff history. You don't even want to know what Catchings did in this second overtime classic (but I'll tell you anyway: 30 points, 13 boards, 43 minutes played). It's just unfortunate for Catchings that the league writers have already turned in their MVP ballots (not that we know who won yet, but still...).
Now that all is said and done (though probably not written), this Sun-Fever drama may go down as the greatest first-round series in WNBA playoff history. That series alone would have made 2007 one of the best postseasons in memory, but this story is just getting started.
On the second day, the Phoenix Mercury returned from seven years of playoff exile. All-Stars Diana Taurasi, Cappie Pondexter and Penny Taylor have led their followers in the desert on a mission to find the Promised Land. The members of this high-scoring trio are all averaging more than 20 points per game in the postseason, ranking second, third and fourth respectively. They weathered the Storm (granted, two nights is much easier than 40) and have been the only team so far to win a game on the road.
Despite the road win in Game 1, the Mercury experienced some adversity on their road to glory as the Storm mounted their own worrisome comeback in Game 2. Phoenix led by as many as 16 points in the first half, but let the Storm back into the game in the second half. (Seattle tied it up at 85 apiece with just over two minutes to go.) The Storm deserve a lot of credit for not giving up when all appeared lost, but with her Mercury team on a mission, Taurasi's 23-foot bomb sealed the deal.
Phoenix will meet another relative newcomer to the Conference Finals, a team that also has its fair share of comebacks and heroics to talk about. After dropping the first game in Sacramento on the first day, the San Antonio Silver Stars returned the favor on the third day in what was threatening to become a series of blowouts.
On the fifth day, the Silver Stars opened up another double-digit lead in the deciding Game 3, but then things got interesting (yup, another comeback). The Silver Stars built a 20-point lead late in the first half and maintained a double-digit advantage throughout the third quarter, but the Monarchs began chipping away at the lead as Nicole Powell and Kara Lawson did the heavy lifting. Lawson’s layup with 1:07 remaining actually gave Sacramento its first lead since the first quarter.
But Stars will be stars and San Antonio struck right back. Becky Hammon hit a 3-pointer to give the Silver Stars a two-point lead which Lawson answered with a layup. Another overtime seemed possible, but it was not to be as Hammon dished to Vickie Johnson for the game-winning layup with five-tenths of a second left to send the Silver Stars to their first Conference Finals since moving to San Antonio.
No matter how you looked at it, the Detroit Shock had the numbers in their favor leading into their first-round matchup with the New York Liberty. Detroit had the best record in the WNBA while New York was the only team with a losing record in the WNBA Playoffs. The Shock won two titles in the last four years while the Liberty had none (they only made the Playoffs twice in the last four years). Detroit's roster came in with 145 combined playoff games while the Liberty's inexperience manifested itself with only 32. Every member of the Shock starting lineup has been an All-Star. The Liberty... well, you get the picture.
But on the second day, none of these numbers mattered as the Liberty ran away from the Shock for a 19-point blowout win at Madison Square Garden. And all of those numbers could have not have predicted another potentially historic comeback in Game 2 back in Auburn Hills. On the fourth day, the defending champs built up a 17-point second-half lead and were poised to even the series, but the Liberty had something else in mind. Too inexperienced to know any better, New York nearly pulled off the upset. But Sixth Woman of the Year Plenette Pierson wasn't keen on an early exit and stood up against Janel McCarville for two big stops in the final two Liberty posessions.
On the sixth day, the same day that man (and woman) was put on the earth, the WNBA gave us Game 3 in yet another classic series. The Liberty came out unfazed by the prospect of playing in enemy territory and built up a double-digit lead in the first half. Janel McCarville and Shameka Christon played like All-Stars all series long. The closest thing we have to a miracle in sports is the upset and the Liberty seemed to have that divine touch from the outside. The Shock trailed at halftime, but as we learned this week, everyone makes a run in the WNBA Playoffs.
Detroit forward Cheryl Ford was questionable coming into the postseason after missing the entire second half of the season. Her limited contributions in Game 1 exposed the Shock's vulnerability, but her 11 points and 10 rebounds in Game 2 showed that the Shock could count on her in Game 3 (17 points, 10 rebounds). With Ford in the paint and Deanna Nolan and Katie Smith hitting shot after shot, Detroit rallied to force overtime (the third overtime game in the seven N.Y.-Detroit games this season). Smith struggled for much of this series, but came up with the big shot in overtime to send the Shock on to the Conference Finals (just an amazing game and an amazing series).
The Ten Commandments
As we pause to look back at the good work we have done over these past six days, it is important that we glean the valuable lessons from the first 10 games and carry them with us for the upcoming rounds. In fact, we can probably codfiy the basic tenets we have learned in the playoffs and carry them with us always.
- Thou shalt not quit playing (no matter the size of your lead or deficit)
- Honor thy fans (both at home and on the road)
- Thou shalt make thyself an idol (especially you, Janel, a budding WNBA superstar)
- Thou shalt not leave Anna DeForge open beyond the 3-point line (aka, thou shalt not commit murder)
- Thou shalt not pre-empt WNBA playoff games (and bear false witness)
- Thou shalt not steal (unless your name is Marie Ferdinand-Harris)
- Remember the home court and keep it holy (home teams won 10 of 11 in the first round)
- Thou shalt not question Tamika Catchings' heart (one bad foot, two Fever wins, three double-doubles)
- Thou shalt not take the name of thy referees in vain (who are working hard for your entertainment)
- Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's shots (pass the ball if you have Diana Taurasi, Penny Taylor or Cappie Pondexter on your team)
And all of this from one round (One round!). It's not supposed to be this good this soon!
How many great first-round memories can you name from the first 10 seasons? A handful at most (Swoopes' triple-double, Nicole Powell's 3 against Houston, Bethany Donaphin... and I'm out), but this season has already given us more than we could ever have dreamed. Fans are electrified with enthusiasm after the first round and even new fans are flocking to watch amid all of the buzz.
After six long days of toil, struggle, creation and excellence, today, the seventh day, is a time to rest. Until tomorrow...