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Shaun Powell

Expect a lot of offense when Diana Taurasi's Mercury battle Seimone Augustus' Lynx.
Expect a lot of offense when Diana Taurasi's Mercury battle Seimone Augustus' Lynx.
P.A. Molumby/NBAE/Getty Images

Drama abounds as WNBA playoffs move to conference finals

Posted Sep 21 2011 8:34PM

There's no Big Three among the WNBA's Final Four. No teams from New York or Chicago or L.A., the biggest markets and therefore the best options, strictly from a population standpoint, to get the most eyeballs for TV ratings.

There's no Cappie Pondexter in the playoffs, no Sue Bird, no Lauren Jackson, no Sylvia Fowles, no Swin Cash and especially no Candace Parker, who's only the baddest mother (literally) on the basketball planet.

Those are the challenges facing the "W" as it swims upstream against football, both college and pro, and the start of the baseball playoffs. The competition for attention and viewers is steeper in late September and early October than any other stretch of the sports calendar, which means if the W wants to hook any viewer beyond the hardcore, the games and players better be compelling.

And so, here's the good news for the league: The playoffs are off to a thrilling start in that regard. The raw emotion, rugged physical play (yes, really) and clutch performances that are so often associated with the NBA postseason are showing up almost on a nightly basis.

All you needed to see was the decisive Game 3, Seattle vs. Phoenix, on Monday when elbows flew, Diana Taurasi stewed and the outcome was decided in the final seconds. After the buzzer, the Mercury screamed and danced as if they won the whole thing, when all they did was reach the Western finals and buy themselves at least three more games. But it was that kind of series.

Same thing happened when Indiana eliminated New York, also in a close Game 3. Who knew that Tamika Catchings, one of the sweetest persons you'd ever want to meet, could be so downright ruthless in the heat of battle, willing (and probably able) to rip your heart out for a win? But there she was in the final moments, popping jumpers (and veins), pushing herself that much closer to the WNBA title, the only thing she hasn't won.

So there are four teams left in a tournament that will be without the defending champions (Seattle) but not without some potential drama, as the East and West get ready to crown champions.

And until the NBA owners and players sing Kumbayah at the negotiating table, this could be the only basketball you'll see for a while. So tune in, just in case.

Atlanta Dream vs. Indiana Fever

They are nicknamed the Dream and a few months ago, their appearance in last summer's Finals must've felt like one for Atlanta. Did it really happen? Did the Dream, off to a putrid 3-9 start this season, actually earn the right to play for a championship just months earlier? Well, the reversal of fortune was as swift as the fall. Atlanta is now the hottest team in hoops, winners of 14 of its last 17 after sweeping Connecticut in the first round. And what's strange is how Atlanta hasn't always leaned on Angel McCoughtry, the leading scorer. In a season that saw her earn another All-Star Game trip, she shot 9-for-33 against Connecticut and Atlanta still won.

While Lindsay Harding picked up the slack with some terrific play at guard, the Dream will need McCoughtry this round. The good news is McCoughtry scored 32, 28 and 20 points in three of four games against Indiana this year, all wins for Atlanta.

The Fever, meanwhile, are flourishing behind the shooting of veteran Katie Douglas. She scored 20-plus in all three postseason games so far and is proving to be a tough check once again, especially when she's floating near the 3-point arc. If Indiana gets a bit more consistency from Catchings, who disappeared for a stretch in the first round, it might finally get a win against Atlanta. And who knows, maybe take a series as well.

Phoenix Mercury vs. Minnesota Lynx

If nothing else, this series should be entertaining, the kind of video-game basketball that could make skeptical fans take notice of the women's game. That's because Phoenix has Taurasi and Minnesota has a rotisserie squad that might be the most talented in the league. Phoenix gets up and down the floor and led the league in scoring; the Lynx finished No. 3 in offense. So points will come fast and easy.

What was most impressive about Phoenix is how the Mercury eliminated Seattle despite Taurasi losing her cool, fouling out and sitting the final six-plus minutes of a one-point game. Penny Taylor easily took over the scoring duties and Candice Dupree took over the game, with the winning shot in the final seconds.

Still, Taurasi needs to be on the floor, and on her game, against the Lynx. Minnesota is that good and that deep. A year ago the Lynx were a lot like the other Minnesota team, the Timberwolves. They were that bad. And then they improved by 14 wins, the second-biggest jump in league history, because Seimone Augustus stayed healthy, Lindsay Whalen put herself in the MVP conversation with savvy guard play and Maya Moore, the college player of the year, arrived in the draft. Add the energy of Rebekkah Brunson, giving Minnesota a fourth All-Star, and the transformation was complete for the Lynx.

Phoenix found a way to beat Minnesota twice this season (while losing three times), so this could be the only major obstacle between the Lynx and the trophy.

Shaun Powell is a veteran NBA writer and columnist. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

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