WNBA Finals: Pondexter Thrives In Her Go-To Role

By Scott Bordow
Updated: September 15, 2007

PHOENIX — Cappie Pondexter was trying to make her way to the interview room, but every couple of feet there was somebody else to hug.

A friend, a family member, a fan. They all wanted to grab her and shake her hand and tell her what a thrill she had just given them. Finally, a WNBA official grabbed Pondexter by the arm and forcefully led her through the throng. It was the only time all night Pondexter let somebody else take the lead. The Mercury may be Diana Taurasi’s team, but it’s Pondexter who punched their ticket to Detroit for Sunday’s decisive Game 5 of the WNBA Finals. Her leaning, falling 9-foot bank shot with 21.7 seconds left gave Phoenix its 77-76 victory, and when she finally settled in behind a microphone, the smile on her face still wide, Pondexter needed only a few words to describe herself and the game-winning shot. “I’m a winner,” she said. “I love to win.” Some athletes don’t want the ball in the closing seconds of a tight game. The fear of failure consumes them. Pondexter has no such inhibitions. The bigger the game, the bigger the moment, the more she wants the responsibility. It’s why, with the Mercury trailing 35-33 at halftime and the season on the line, coach Paul Westhead decided to hand the offense over to his 5-foot-9 guard. “I think 80 percent of the possessions in the second half were going through her hands,” Westhead said. “Everybody has to have a go-to thing that you just say, ‘Here’s what you do when things are stuck.’ Well, when we’re stuck, we’re getting the ball in Cappie’s hands.” Smart move. Pondexter scored 20 of her game-high 26 points in the second half. Eight of those points came in the decisive fourth quarter, and when the Mercury had to have buckets on their final two possessions, Pondexter delivered, hitting a 12-foot jumper before her game-winner. “She’s a closer,” Taurasi said. “She’s been doing it all year.” “It’s something I love doing,” Pondexter said. “Especially with a minute to go, I just love having the ball and making things happen.” She did just that Thursday. For the second straight game, Detroit was able to play the game at its tempo. The Mercury’s 77 points were 12 below their season average, and they shot just 38 percent. It was the San Antonio Spurs vs. the Phoenix Suns all over again, and there was even a Robert Horry-like villain in Shock forward Plenette Pierson, who hit the Mercury’s Penny Taylor in the face near the end of Game 3, prompting a brief scuffle and some angry words from Taurasi. There were a few elbows and words exchanged Thursday, as well, and it appeared Pierson had gotten into the Mercury’s head. But little fazes the 24-year-old Pondexter. She’s a tough woman from a tough Chicago neighborhood. Cheap shots and harsh words won’t get her off her game. “She’s just a tenacious player,” Westhead said. A championship will be on the line Sunday. The cameras and the attention will be focused on Taurasi. But the ball — and the season — will be in Pondexter’s hands. Which is right where she wants it.