The one constant through the 2011 season and throughout the past two seasons has been Cappie Pondexter. Clearly one of, if not the best guard in the WNBA, Pondexter was all but lights out for the Liberty heading into this year’s playoffs. Who would even consider raising the question “What would happen if Cappie wasn’t Cappie?” because Cappie is always Cappie. Right?
Maybe someone should have asked.
Pondexter scored below her regular season average in each of the three games in New York’s first-round series against Indiana. She scored a mere 11 points in the third and deciding game, which the Fever won, 72-62, to advance to the Eastern Conference finals. She did have a chance to win Game 1 with a 3-pointer, but her jumper as time expired caromed off the rim. Other than that, Pondexter had an uncharacteristically quiet series.
I’ll tell you who’s not surprised by this: Indiana. The Fever game planned perfectly for this series, using not only All-Star Katie Douglas to guard Pondexter, but throwing a slew of quick guards in the New York star’s face. The results were the following series numbers for Pondexter: Game 1, 6 for 15, 18 points; Game 2, 5 for 15, 14 points; Game 3, 4 for 14, 11 points. You have to credit the Fever’s defense, but wouldn’t you expect better from a star player during crunch time? I’m not raising LeBron comparisons, but this three-game series reminds me of the Heat’s meltdown during this spring’s NBA Finals.
Don’t get me wrong, this playoff loss doesn’t all fall on Pondexter’s shoulders. Defensively, the Liberty held MVP candidate Tamika Catchings in check and forced other players to come up forIndiana– that was the game plan going into the series. What doomed New York was its unreliable play on offense.
Save the Game 2 win at the Prudential Center, the Liberty as a team didn’t shoot particularly well. Nicole Powell’s 6-for-11 (3 of 4 from 3-point land) kept New York in the third game, but there just wasn’t enough consistent offense when the team played at Conseco Fieldhouse. The Liberty starters, particularly Kia Vaughn and Leilani Mitchell, were outplayed in the series and bench players Kara Braxton and Quanitra Hollingsworth were non-factors in the team’s two losses.
Also contributing to the Libs’ loss, especially in Game 3, was free throw shooting. As was the case through the regular season, New York’s opponents won the battle at the charity stripe. In the final game, Indiana outscored the Liberty, 21-7, from the free throw line. If New York was going to play an aggressive style, the players must do it on offense, too, in order to get chances at the free throw line.
It’s clearly a back-to-the-drawing board scenario for New York, which began the season with such high expectations. Yes, they were without Janel McCarville and saw other key losses, but this team still had enough talent to go beyond the first round of the playoffs. The team doesn’t need wholesale changes – minor tweaks at key positions are all this team needs.