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Around the Web: Showcasing the WNBA's Best in the Playoffs

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If you are new to the WNBA and trying to familiarize yourself with the league's most talented players, tonight's two playoff games should be a great start.

In the Western Conference, the Phoenix Mercury host the San Antonio Silver Stars and Phoenix Stan will be representing Swish Appeal at the game while the less privileged among us will be participating in a game thread once again here on Swish Appeal (read: you should also participate in the game thread here on Swish Appeal).

The Mercury need to win to stay alive and will be looking to their versatile MVP candidates that almost defy positional classification -- Cappie Pondexter and Diana Taurasi -- to step up and lead them to victory.

Mercury not panicking despite 0-1 hole
The Mercury had five players score in double figures Thursday but received only 15 points each from Cappie Pondexter and Diana Taurasi. They combined to shoot just 35 percent from the field. "We don't see a night like that from Diana very often," said veteran forward Penny Taylor, who had a team-high 18 points. "She is a great scorer. I am sure she will rebound in the next game."

The Mercury's uptempo style is also bolstered by DeWanna Bonner, the league's Sixth Woman of the Year and a front-runner for rookie of the year.

On the other side of the ball is a player that is arguably an MVP candidate despite playing for a losing team that scratched its way into the playoffs: point guard Becky Hammon. But it was a lesser known player who stepped up and led the Silver Stars to victory in game 1.

Lawson-Wade gives Silver Stars a boost
Silver Stars point guard Edwige Lawson-Wade said her breakout performance this year has been more about her teammates and less about her. All of those 3-pointers she has made? It's because Becky Hammon and Vickie Johnson have broken down opposing defenses. And those career-high 11 assists in a crucial game against Los Angeles two weeks ago? Well, she does have standouts Sophia Young and Ann Wauters to pass the ball to. But Wauters begs to differ. She's known and played with and against Lawson-Wade the past eight years and has seen her grow as a player.

In the Eastern Conference, the Indiana Fever will try to close our their best of three series with the Mystics, led by MVP candidates Katie Douglas and Tamika Catchings. And although they may not have a strong MVP candidate, the Mystics feature the 2009 Most Improved Player in Crystal Langhorne, one of the league's best defenders in guard Alana Beard, and Lindsey Harding, one of the best point guards this year. It will be tough for Washington to win on the road, but Indiana plays some of the most well-rounded basketball of any team in the league.

Let's be there for the Fever | | The Indianapolis Star
Indiana Fever Coach Lin Dunn has issued a special invitation to residents of this basketball-rich state: Come see her team of talented, hardworking players perform tonight at Conseco Fieldhouse. Dunn and the Fever can't guarantee a series-clinching win in game 2 of the WNBA conference semifinals. But her squad can be counted on to deliver what they do every night: play with spirit, determination and a clear appreciation for their fans. Advertisement "We need you there in the facility,'' Dunn told The Star's David Woods. "Not in spirit. In body.'

Catchings has terrorized the Mystics this season averaging 20.5 point against them this season and dominating both ends of the floor, one of the reasons she is considered a front-runner for Defensive Player of the Year.

Familiar foe still haunts Mystics - Washington Times
Catchings averaged 20.5 points against the Mystics in four regular-season games, and Thursday's showing was probably her best against them yet. She routinely outworked the Mystics for whatever she needed. She guarded whoever had the hot hand. She grabbed five offensive rebounds, almost all from her own misses. And her lone steal came when she poked the ball free from rookie Marissa Coleman after a defensive rebound and quickly converted a layup. "That's what Catchings is. She's a ball of energy," Beard said. "She's the type of player that she's going to keep going. I played with her in Poland, and I know how it is. You're not going to stop her because you may think you have her stopped the first time - she may take the shot and miss - but she's going to get that rebound and get that steal. She's never out of the play."

For the Mystics, who led the WNBA in attendance this year but lost game 1 on Thursday playing in College Park, are up against the wall and need to win tonight just to stay alive.

DC BasketCases
The BasketCases have had so much fun watching the Mystics this season that it's depressing even to contemplate the fact that it could all end tonight. But with the loss to Indy on Thursday in the first game of their best-of-three playoff series, it will all end tonight, unless the Mystics win to tie the series and force the rubber match on Monday.

Yet it is likely that nothing that occurs tonight will match what happened last night in Seattle...

Still recovering from last night's games...

Kevin Pelton and I have are still trying to find the words to describe the Storm's 75-74 victory over the Sparks last night and at this point, it's probably just sufficient to say that it was yet another fantastic finish in Key Arena.

A Finish That Defies Words " StormTracker - The Official Blog of the Seattle Storm
UPDATE: OK, it’s the following morning, and with the help of Q’s account at the excellent new women’s hoops blog Swish Appeal, I think I’m ready to coherently discuss "The Play," which from henceforth on must be referred to in caps with quotation marks

And while we are still dwelling on "The Play", the Storm are already moving on and preparing what figures to be an exciting third and final game on Sunday.

Storm | Storm steals a win, keeps its season alive | Seattle Times Newspaper
"I believe coach Brian Agler's exact words were, 'OK, you can enjoy this for about an hour.' We understand it's unfinished business. Everyone was more excited for players like Ashley and Suzy, players who haven't played that much but had the opportunity to make plays. But we're focusing on Sunday."

The game was so good that even Los Angeles Sparks owner Kathy Goodman was able to appreciate it.

Let history repeat itself | The Fabulous Forum | Los Angeles Times
This is playoff basketball. Ten seconds left. Who wants it more? Friday it was definitely the Seattle Storm. Little stole the in-bounds pass and raced down the court to make a layup with just five seconds left. We had one last chance to make it happen, but Lisa Leslie didn’t get a decent look at the basket and the horn sounded. Seattle had lived to fight another day. Wednesday night was a must-win for us. Friday was definitely a must-win for Seattle. And they responded. The game did not end the way I wanted it to — would have loved our team to have a five-day rest before having to play again — but this was an incredibly exciting basketball game.

While the Storm and Sparks look forward to playing an elimination game on Sunday, the defending champion Detroit Shock took care of the Dream last night, moving on to the second round....something that would have seemed unlikely at the All-Star break.

Detroit Shock sweep Atlanta in WNBA playoff action
Just a few weeks ago the Detroit Shock were under .500 and battling just to make the WNBA playoffs as they neared the end of an inconsistent, injury-filled regular season. But after finishing the season with a 5-2 run, the Shock added two more victories this week to sweep the Atlanta Dream in their first-round playoff series, two games to none. Detroit polished off the Dream with a 94-79 triumph in Atlanta Friday night.

For the Dream, it was an amazing turn around in their second season of existence and they are probably wishing they were just able to stay healthy.

Dream eliminated by Shock from WNBA Playoffs |
From four wins in their inaugural season to home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs this year, the Dream’s rapid ascent was as stunning as the playoff crash they’ve experienced the past 72 hours. They led by a point at halftime Friday but trailed by as many as 17 points before their postseason dream turned into a nightmare down the stretch of a game in which they simply couldn’t keep up.

An exciting playoffs so far and more excitement to come.

Be sure to join us on our game thread tonight at 7 pm PST for the Mercury-Silver Stars game.

Other Links:

Mercury aide has 'a lot' of Grandpa Lute | ®
In her fourth season with the Mercury, Hairgrove has a job she loves, a job she would not trade, a job that she seems made for. It's in the genes for Lute Olson's granddaughter. "Jules is the person I rely on for the X's and O's, the scouting report, the breakdowns," Mercury head coach Corey Gaines said. A former UCLA guard, Gaines is asked if he sees some of Lute in the former Julie Brase. "A lot," he replies quickly. "She is the right-hand man for me, if you want to say it that way. She makes it easy on me.

Leslie, Johnson winding down their WNBA careers - WNBA - ESPN
Sometime in the coming days or perhaps weeks, Lisa Leslie and Vickie Johnson will each play her last game in the WNBA. When their teams are eliminated or win the playoffs that began earlier this week and they walk off the court, the two will be ending careers that have been associated with the league since its inception in 1997.

Pleasant Dreams - An Atlanta Dream Blog: P2/2009 - Shock 94, Dream 79
With 5:31 left, Zellous would steal the ball from McCoughtry. The running layup made the score 79-65 in favor of Detroit. My friend looked at me and said, "That's the game, right there." Atlanta looked listless, as if they just wanted to get this beating over with and go home. The winner of a Grand Hotel Promotion was announced on one of the screens at the far ends of the arena. He only looked mildly amused. Great.