Just the Facts, Ma'am: The New York Liberty built up a lead that stretched past twenty, and bent but did not break against the Washington Mystics' fourth-quarter comeback, claiming an 85-77 victory. Cappie Pondexter of New York and Monique Currie of Washington each had 23 points to lead their teams. For the Mystics, Matee Ajavon added 20 off the bench, while the Liberty had three additional players in double figures.
For retinal scarring, lousy inbounding, leopard print, thoughts on the color pink, and primal shrieks of rage, join your intrepid and half-blinded blogger after the jump.
The New York Maalox Moments (presented by Foxwoods) are going to kill me one of these days. I know it as surely as I know my name. The cause of death on my death certificate will read "cardiac arrest brought on by the New York Liberty". Hopefully they won't blow the entire lead before I kick the bucket.
I got to the game early, thanks to a conveniently placed half-day at my office, so I got to check out the fashion report. Taj McWilliams-Franklin took her pink very seriously, with a jacket that could probably be spotted in the dark, and I won't swear to it, but I thought I saw dark pink highlights in her hair. Kia Vaughn had cute pink toenail polish. Essence Carson was hopelessly late, and perhaps changing into her sneakers might have helped her move faster. For the third game in a row, Cappie Pondexter gave fans the brush-off. Not cool.
As an aside: I despise pinkwashing. Yes, I appreciate that the fight against breast cancer is a worthy cause, and one that is strongly identified with women. But it's not the biggest danger to women, and it's unusual in the amount of emphasis that's placed on the symbolic color. It feels like forced feminization of the league, a red (or pink) flag that these are "just" women out there. Maybe I'm overanalyzing a little bit, but I could really live without pink uniforms and pink shirts and pink balls and pink keychains and pink graphics (they gave the logo a pinkwashing on the screen, for heaven's sake) and a specially made pink uniform for the mascot. Wouldn't all that money be more helpful being donated to the cause? (And let's not forget the $15 that MSG pocketed from the sale of every $25 pink shirt.) And if you criticize it, you're accused of being insensitive- "DON'T YOU KNOW IT'S FOR A GOOD CAUSE?" Yes, and it's all sound and fury signifying nothing, a way to act like we care and putting in minimal effort with maximum visible proof.
Marissa Coleman took and hit some amazingly deep threes during shootaround. I was duly impressed. Angela Taylor, who traveled to the game, spent a lot of time talking to Carol Blazejowski. I hope she was giving Blaze ideas, not taking them. Angela, Blaze has screwed up more things as a GM than you've ever considered doing. Don't listen to her.
Pointless and mediocre rendition of "God Bless America" (perhaps a tactless musical choice given the presence of a group of Iraqis), and a decent if oddly choreographed version of the national anthem (really, hand cocked on your leopard-printed hip?).
Signal boost, because I am a woman of my word: if you love Leilani Mitchell, go talk to Sandy in the front of section 51 and get yourself a lei for Leilani. There are signs. Go do it, because Leilani is awesome and this idea is awesome. (And if you're in a position to help her out, well, who's going to complain about leis?)
Ashley Houts comes off as kind of a brat. It's one thing to be too cool for fans if you're a superstar. It's another thing to be too cool for fans if you're the tenth woman on a roster where the eleventh woman is physically incapable of playing. Bringing that attitude onto the court just cements my opinion that we could have traded her for a bag of unwashed gym socks and we'd still have gotten the more useful and more pleasant end of the deal. I don't like Matee Ajavon. Never have. Even when Rutgers was my team, I gritted my teeth, then blessed the day that she finished up at RU, because that meant I didn't have to root for her anymore. It was cathartic. I forgot just how much I despised the chip on her shoulder while she was on the court, how much her ballhogging made me want to hit things, and how much of a jackass she could be after a foul. (Really, Ajavon? You pick up the ball out of your opponent's hands, then offer to help her up? Really? If this were Twitter, I'd tag that question #wheretheydothatat.) If you heard primal screams coming from the green seats, those were mine as once again my team left Jacinta Monroe unguarded. STOP THAT. I put up with it once when St. John's was in the tournament. I refuse to accept it on the professional level. Seriously, between the two Terrapins and the Seminole, I was having flashbacks. I like Monroe's hustle, though. She didn't give up on a single play. I can see why having a broken hand was such a problem for her- having good hands is a critical part of her game. Marissa Coleman put in work on the boards, but I was more grateful that those amazingly deep threes she was sinking in warm-ups didn't go down for her until the last one. If she'd been able to get loose a few minutes earlier, it could have gotten ugly. I had forgotten how much I disliked Nakia Sanford's overacting and physical play. Such a drama queen.
Don't let Chasity Melvin's line fool you. I'm sure that at least three of those rebounds were on her own missed shots. (How in the world do you miss an easy lay-up when you're 6'3" and Cappie Pondexter is your only defender, but you hit the follow when Plenette Pierson joins the party on D?) I think she's fallen off the same cliff that a lot of the '98 and '99 players have. Lindsey Harding still looked a bit ginger out there, and Plank wasn't taking any risks with her. Since she's the only true point they have, I think that affected their offense, because, yeah, you're going to expect Ajavon to pass the ball? You're going to expect Ashley Houts to set up the offense? Okay. She had a couple of gorgeous drives where she looked like she had decided, "You know what? I'm taking this shot because it makes the most sense." Katie Smith, despite the mask, still did a nice job with the ballhandling. I was surprised she wasn't on Pondexter more often, but she was playing more of a three than a guard, even with Currie on the floor. The stroke is still there, though she needs a little more time to wind up than she used to. Crystal Langhorne was pretty much a non-factor. I wonder if she has trouble with posts who are closer to her size, and has some sort of positioning advantage on taller posts. I will have to test this theory on Sunday. Monique Currie looked like she had found a way to balance "Scowl and Foul" with the talented player who went high in the 2006 draft- yes, the bad attitude was on display and she was committing stupid fouls, but she was also driving to the hole and getting the foul calls (though there will be a little more about that later on).
So this is why the last three players on our bench don't play all that often. They look confused by this whole basketball thing. I can excuse Kia Vaughn, since she's the youngest and didn't play all that much last year either, though rebounding and hitting free throws were important skills on the collegiate level as well. I can't excuse Nikki Blue or Sidney Spencer. Granted, Nikki had to face the brunt of Washington's unusually aggressive defense, and Houts seemed to have personal issues with her, and she did her part to set up her teammates. But how in the world do you inbound it off the back of the backboard, Sidney Spencer? Honestly. Essence Carson quietly came in and did her job. So did Kalana Greene, though Kalana was more on the defensive end. Plenette Pierson got victimized by some odd calls, to the point where she started mocking the refs. Her defensive tenacity is starting to rub off on some of the younger players, which I like.
Leilani Mitchell is starting to remind me of that other guard from the Mountain West who canned threes on a regular basis. No, not that one, the one who also wore #5. When she gets hot, watch out. I was disappointed in her rebounding, but that was because no one was helping box out. The Mystics' offensive rebounding was sick- in a good way if you root for DC, in a bad way if you're in New York. Cappie Pondexter will do pretty much the same thing every night: she'll rebound, she'll get her assists, she'll play sketchy defense, and she'll take her shots. On a good night like this one, more of the shots will go in than won't and she'll get to the line. That kind of consistency is hard to write creatively about, and my completely irrational bias against her will come into play if I try to go deeper, so it's on to the next one. I still would like to see Janel McCarville drive inside more instead of settling for long jumpers, but if she's going to be more of a four with Taj as the five, it sort of makes sense. I don't know if I like it, but it makes sense. (Should I have been disappointed that Janel didn't dye her hair neon pink? I miss Janel's random changes of hairdo.) She got messed up by some stupid fouls and some badly allocated fouls. Taj McWilliams-Franklin continues to amaze me. I wish I could be as awesome as she is when I'm her age. Her grit, her determination, and her style are all top-notch. Nicole Powell is contributing in smaller ways, but it shouldn't take until the fourth quarter for a WNBA starter not named Shalee Lehning or Ticha Penicheiro to get her first basket. I don't mind the rebounds or the assists, but I'd like a few more points and the court awareness not to leave Katie Smith open for three to go along with them; for a player of Powell's pedigree, I don't think that's asking too much.
Blame the bald black guy for the bad calls! It really looked like they were trying to protect the star players by spreading the fouls around to their less "important" teammates. How in the world Nicole Powell got away with passing the ball back behind the halfcourt line on a break, I will never know, and the fact that that was only the second dumbest thing a Liberty player did in that game terrifies me. The flagrant that was called on Taj was nonsense. Taj was making a play on the ball and Sanford overdramatized it like she was auditioning for a soap opera. We were not amused.
I sort of want to smack the Liberty reserves upside the head, but I also sort of want to smack the Mystics upside the head. On one hand, I appreciate the competitive fire that kept them pressing and playing hard even when they were down twenty and everyone had brought in their last players. On the other hand, is it really necessary to play that physically when you're down twenty and you've brought in the end of your bench (such as the "end" can be defined when you only have ten players and several of them are dinged up)? That's when Ajavon really beefed up her numbers. Gotta love the stat padding.
I think I'd have come home a lot more satisfied with this game if the last three reserves hadn't shown how rusty and out-of-game-condition they were. If the Mystics are really healthy by the end of the season, I'd be really worried about them. Monroe is a serviceable enough post that Plank doesn't have to worry about playing Melvin and Sanford too much. I saw game reports from Mystics fans who were wondering what Plank was doing with her lineups- as odd as the comparison might sound for a disciple of Tara Vanderveer, I think Plank was acting like a kid at Christmas, because she had a whole ten players for the first time in how long? She could actually try to put in different lineups! I can imagine a coach being overexcited about that.
A win is a win is a win. Go Liberty! Beat the Lynx! (Go Sun! Beat the Mystics!)