When the WNBA playoffs start tonight, the pair out West knows each other well. Sometimes their meetings end with buzzer beaters and other times with contentious stares, but always with a round of hugs for the rivals of Seattle and Phoenix.
When Storm head coach Brian Agler’s team flew through Tulsa to start the month, he was preparing for this match up with the Mercury.
“I’ve got a feeling we’ll probably play Phoenix in the first round and hopefully we’ll have home court advantage,” Agler postured after the 96-74 win. The Storm closed out the season winning their final three games to secure home court, as planned.
“We have a rivalry,” Agler went on to say about the Merc. “And part of the rivalry is because Penny, Diana, Sue, Lauren are all real good friends. It gets really competitive on game nights but there is camaraderie there too. They’re a good team. They’re very talented but we’ll be ready.”
Agler’s foe tonight, Corey Gaines and Co., swept through the plains just days earlier. Gaines wasn’t worried at all about the playoff picture as he shrugged off talk of who the Mercury might face in the first round. Rather he and his team leader, Diana Taurasi, spoke of the Phoenix philosophy of only worrying about yourself.
“The last six, seven years here, we don’t worry about anyone else,” Taurasi said. “We can’t control what other teams do, but we can control coming to practice, setting good screens, rebounding. Those are really simple things that we can control.”
One thing Gaines – and Taurasi for that matter – are not interested in controlling is Diana’s emotions on the court.
“I think that’s what got us winning,” Gaines said of the accumulating stack of technicals in Taurasi’s stat column. “I told her to get some more techs, be yourself.”
Taurasi agrees, that fiery display of emotion is ingrained in her game, and will always be there. “I’m just going to play. No one is going to change the way I play. If not, I might as well just stay home.”
In the other matchup in the West, the team ‘staying home’ is the Minnesota Lynx after running through the regular season as the cream of the crop.
Lynx veteran Taj McWilliams-Franklin talked about finishing the season strong when her team escaped the confined of the BOK Center with a narrow 78-72 win Aug. 23.
“The Minnesota Lynx haven’t been in this position before and a lot of the players are young and they’re not ready to make that mental click that they need,” McWilliams-Franklin said. “We have to be visual and focused. I just talk, I tell them about [what to expect].
“I just don’t think that they believe it. It’s just a mentality. I hope it sinks in. Sooner or later it’s either going to sink in or we’re going to get beat by somebody that we don’t want to get beat by or we’re going to go into the playoffs and not make it past the first round and that’s what no one wants.”
Whatever their elder statesman has been preaching must have sunk in alright to close the season, as the Lynx finished out winning nine of their last 10 contests. But Minnesota will be facing off against another team on a good streak to close out the regular season in San Antonio. The Silver Stars took five of their last six games, including an overtime win over Tulsa to end their schedule.
“I think Minnesota has proven to be without question the best team in the regular season. But our momentum is good right now,” San Antonio head coach Dan Hughes said after Sunday’s game. “We’re probably playing our best basketball right now. That’s our design. We’re built to what we do in the playoffs and we’ve got a big challenge ahead.”
That challenge might be too big, if you talk to Tulsa Shock interim head coach Teresa Edwards, who will be keeping a close eye on the playoff picture on Tulsa’s side of the bracket.
“I think it looks really promising on the West,” Edwards said after Sunday’s loss to the Silver Stars. Oh my God, you’ve got Seattle, Minnesota and Phoenix. I love watching Seattle play because they just have so many different options on their team and any one of them can take over a game at any time. And then you’ve got Phoenix. Of course, Diana does what she does over there and if she gets some help it’s over, there’s a whole other game.
“Minnesota’s no joke. They’re just a lot of confident players and experienced players as well as Maya Moore on that roster in Minnesota so I look forward to some exciting playoff games really. I like watching all three of those teams and now they’re going to be going at each other. I love it.”
But what about the Silver Stars, the team that just handed Tulsa their last loss of a long season?
“San Antonio’s a different structured team, they play a different style. If you play a half court game, they’re very strong,” Edwards said. ” That sounds like I took San Antonio out of it, but I really didn’t. I just know they bring a different package than those three teams.”
That package is sure to be on display Friday night when their series tips off. Edwards wasn’t willing to give a straight prediction or favorite, but Tulsa player-turned-commentator (and hopefully turned-player again in 2012) was willing to. Shanna Crossley likes the defending champs to reign supreme.
“In the East I would stay with Indiana because they’ve got the experience,” Crossley said of the top seeded team in the division. “They’ve got a really well-rounded team and they’ve got great leadership with Tamika Catchings at the helm. But until somebody knocks off Seattle, they’re going to be my team of choice.
“They’ve got the experience, they’ve got the best player in the world who’s coming back healthy now and given herself enough time that she can get back into the rhythm of playing. You’ve got to stick with the champs, in my opinion, until someone knocks them off.”
If a repeat does indeed come to fruition, I’m sure Crossley, who will be spending her fall and winter training and working in the Emerald City, will get a warm welcome to her newest hometown.