Mercury Win Over Liberty Marred By Fight, Cappie Pondexter Ejected

The Phoenix Mercury broke their six-game losing streak in a big way as former Mercury guard Cappie Pondexter was ejected in a third quarter scuffle. Three Mercury players scored over 20 points, with Candice Dupree leading the way with 24.

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No Suspension For Cappie, One Game For Swanier

According to a league official I spoke with, Ketia Swanier will be suspended one game for leaving the bench area during an altercation while Cappie Pondexter and Penny Taylor were not given suspensions.

Cappie will be fined as part of her Flagrant 2 foul.

Swanier will miss the Mercury’s next game which is Tuesday in Los Angeles against the Sparks.

Cappie got off easy for what was clearly a malicious hit to the head and then her push at Taurasi after the play stopped. We’ve seen suspensions for much less in the NBA.

You can understand Swanier’s reaction but she clearly broke the rule and gave the league no choice.

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Mercury Reaction To Pondexter Flagrant Foul, Suspensions Possible

Cappie Pondexter seems to want this story to go away, but when three of the league's biggest stars have an altercation like this and there are suspensions on the line that could impact teams' playoff chances, it would be irresponsible to ignore it.

In fact, the WBNA community should be upset that a story this big isn't attracting more attention. If this involved NBA stars, it would be the only story being discussed.

Phoenix Mercury coach Corey Gaines certainly would have liked more witnesses and also sees it as a positive for his team, "It should have been a TV game. The emotions, the drama. Definitely the fans would have liked that on WNBA TV; too bad it wasn't. I'm sure they tweeted about it. Facebooked about it. I'm sure it got out. The WNBA is a tight knit group, so probably the word got out.

"But it was something that we probably needed. It is something that will probably get us going the right way. Not the win, just the emotion and the way the game was being played. Sometimes you need that."

Gaines said he watched the tape of the incident numerous times and felt it was a hard foul, but wouldn't speculate on intent.

"You never know what's inside someone's mind ... Cappie's an aggressive player, she plays hard," he said. "If you can't read minds -- which I don't think anybody can -- you can just say 'Hey, she goes hard.' So you've got to give a person the benefit of the doubt. You never know."

Penny Taylor said she hadn't heard from Cappie since the incident on Saturday and said there was some normal bumping and contact earlier in the game, but nothing stood out as having precipitated the hit, "I do play hard. If that's reason for it, I don't know, but I guess you'ld have to speak to Cappie about that."

Unfortunately, Cappie is not taking questions. A team spokesperson denied an interview request, stating only that she's focused on her next game. The Liberty's next scheduled game is Tuesday in Seattle, but she may not get a chance to play in it.

Renee Brown, chief of basketball operations for the WNBA, is expected to review the incident, according to a league spokesperson. Suspensions are possible for Pondexter, as well as for Taylor for her reaction and for Ketia Swanier for leaving the Mercury bench during the altercation.

"From what I could see on the video... not really going for the ball, got more of my head," Taylor said. "For whatever reason, I'm not sure but definitely it was a hard foul and I think the refs having seen it themselves made that decision, also."

As for her reaction, in which she jumped up and charged at her former teammate, "You're in the middle of a game and your emotions are high and you react that way when someone hits you; I think most people would."

Diana Taurasi commented on the foul saying, "If you watch it, it's pretty self-explanatory all the way through."

Taurasi didn't want to speculate about what led up to the incident, saying we should ask Cappie. She said that Cappie hadn't explained the foul to her, adding, "We chatted a little bit. It's over and gone."

"Stuff happens," Taurasi said. "If we were not to like every person we got into it with on the court, I don't think I'd have one friend in the world."

As for the elbow from Cappie when she was running to help Taylor up, Taurasi said, "It's pretty silly, you know, but it doesn't surprise me. I'm not surprised."

She used the same grin she uses when talking about how great the officials were after a particularly contentious game, hinting at a deeper back story.

Gaines also opened that door right after the altercation saying, "Now the truth comes out. Everyone can see."

Asked today about that comment, Gaines clarified that he was addressing criticism leveled at he and the Mercury for trading Cappie Pondexter.

"We didn't trade Cappie," Gaines stated. "I don't know how people don't understand ... we didn't trade Cappie. If I would have traded Cappie, I think I would have been fired instantly. What fool would do that? We didn't trade Cappie. Cappie didn't want to play with us anymore."

Gaines felt that message hadn't gotten out to fans and media outside of Phoenix and that somehow this incident helped to clarify that it was her decision to leave.

"I think they will see now that we didn't get rid of Cappie," he said. "Cappie wanted to go somewhere else. That's what I was trying to say in that statement."

Gaines hadn't yet heard from the league regarding his players that left the bench. He mentioned DeWanna Bonner, who Gaines said stepped on the line, and Ketia Swanier, who he thought was just moving to help Penny Taylor.

The replay shows Bonner may have barely stepped over the line, but that Swanier accelerated a towards the fracas itself, getting about halfway across the court before catching herself. She never got near any Liberty players involved. Swanier didn't want to discuss the incident after today's practice.

Gaines also correctly pointed out that the Liberty bench isn't in the camera view, implying that it would be unfair to punish his players without having the ability to also see if any New York players reacted.

The league wouldn't comment on when any suspension decisions would be made.

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A Closer Look At Cappie's Hit With More Images

The replay of last night's game is available on WNBA.com's Live Access. You can advance to about the 1:07 mark to see the incident.

Here's some screen shots. After seeing this from a few angles and at slow speed, it is even worse than originally described.

Cappie has absolutely no play on the ball and winds up and delivers an intentional blow to Penny Taylor's head. Then any thought of the hit being accidental is erased when Cappie doesn't even look down at Taylor and then preemptively pushes Taurasi in the upper check and neck area while Diana is running towards Taylor.

I can't recall seeing an intentional hit like that in any basketball game in a long time. A several game suspension for Pondexter is a must.

A truly shameful display from a former Phoenix favorite. I can't imagine what she was thinking.

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Cappie Pondexter's Cheap Foul And Cowardly Post-Game Reaction

We will have to wait for things to settle out before we know more about what prompted Cappie Pondexter's cheap foul on Penny Taylor. If we ever do. In the meantime, her actions tonight on the court and after the game speak for themselves.

The Flagrant 2 foul, which is clear from the photo, was not incidental and her actions immediately following the foul only reinforce that.

She didn't go to help Taylor up or express any kind of regret and, according to reports, she even shoved Taurasi as she was moving to help her teammate.

Post-game, Pondexter had plenty of time to cool down having watched the final two quarters of the game from the locker room. Yet she refused to speak with the media and offer any kind of explanation or expose herself to questioning.

Instead, she issued 140-character excuses via Twitter.

I'm sayin this to all my fans I would never do anything on the court to hurt anyone! Imma competitor 1stless than a minute ago via ÜberTwitter

 

But her former coach Corey Gaines apparently felt otherwise, stating immediately after the incident, "Now the truth comes out. Everyone can see," according to a tweet from someone near him.

I won't even begin speculate about any off-the-court issues that prompted Pondexter's actions, instead we will just let her cheap foul and cowardly response speak for themselves.

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Cappie Pondexter Fight Photos

Some early shots of the action. Stay tuned for more post-fight coverage.

Photos by Ryan Malone, SB Nation Arizona.

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Mercury Snap Six-Game Losing Streak, Cappie Tossed In Return to Phoenix

The saying goes: When it rains, it pours. As it stands, the Phoenix Mercury have endured enough rain and finally found a ray of sunlight. In the midst of one of the worst losing streaks in franchise history, the Mercury found enough strength to turn the corner and pull out a victory.

"It's always good to win," Diana Taurasi said. "We needed it in the worst way."

Truer words could not have been spoken.

The game started as a pleasant return for Cappie Pondexter. A memorial video was played, she received a standing ovation, and she received her 2009 WNBA Championship ring. Hugs and kisses were shared between players and staff, and it seemed that all road bumps had been smoothed out.

However, things didn't stay sunny for long. In the middle of a New York Liberty run that cut the Mercury lead, Cappie committed a hard foul against Penny Taylor. Taylor sprung up and charged at Cappie. The good feeling of merely an hour ago vanished in an instant. Diana Taurasi sprinted to the aid of her teammate, but it wasn't until a few pushes and a shove to the neck of Taurasi that Cappie was finally detained by her teammates.

"It's just part of the game. You get over it and move on," said Taurasi of the incident. "I have a lot of love, but on the court, you have love for the people that are wearing your jersey."

She went on to say that it was "water under the bridge, really", but the Liberty declined any availability to the media to comment on the scuffle.

"Well, you know Cappie always gave good fouls," coach Corey Gaines said.

Candice and Tangela's Big Night

In a largely disappointing season for Tangela Smith, it seems she's finally found her rhythm. Over the past two games, the 33-year-old center has shot 8-for-10 from 3-point range. While she still gives up some size and strength against larger, more athletic players, she is finally finding her groove in the role that helped the Mercury win their championships. In tonight's game against the Liberty, Smith double-doubled with 21 points (7-12 FG, 5-7 3P, 2-2 FT) and 10 rebounds.

While Candice Dupree was never dubbed as "struggling" so much as it was getting used to the system, it seems like she has also finally found her rhythm.

"She's been playing like that the first four or five games we had," Gaines said. "What happened was she just wasn't used to the pace. It took us our first year to the midpoint to get used to playing; she just did it a little faster. I just had to tell her what to do. Her body wasn't ready yet. She was hurt the first eight games, but we just didn't tell you guys. She had a pulled quad. She couldn't run or move very well. We didn't say anything, but that's why she couldn't move. Now she's healthy."

When asked about her individual evaluation of her performance, Dupree said with a smile on her face, "I feel like I'm running a lot better. I'm getting shots in the flow of the offense. Trying to rebound the ball a bit more. Overall, I think I'm doing a lot better than I was at the beginning of the season ... I'm just trying to do as much as I can to help the team win."

News and Notes

  • Tangela Smith looked to be moving slowly, and when asked if she was injured, coach Gaines said, "That's why she's shooting better. No, seriously. She was too healthy before. You're laughing, but that's the case. When a person feels good, you start doing other things that you really can't do. Then when you get hurt, you have to only do the things you can do ... I hope she stays like that for the rest of the year."
  • Ketia Swanier may have had the best summary of just how it felt to break the losing streak. "Oh my gosh, it feels amazing. I don't think anybody on this team ever lost six in a row. Ever. Staff included. It feels amazing; yeah, it feels good."
  • After making her first two field goals, Tangela Smith surpassed Sheryl Swoopes for fifth on the all-time WNBA scoring list.
  • With her 20 points, Diana Taurasi set a new franchise record by reaching double-figures in scoring in 37 straight games. The streak is the longest active in the WNBA and surpasses Pondexter's previous mark of 36 games.
  • The Mercury improved to 5-1 when holding its opponent under 90 points and 4-1 in games decided by greater than 10 points.
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Mercury Hope To Spoil Pondexter's Return, End Losing Streak

While things in Mercury-land aren't exactly peachy keen, at least this is about as low as the team can go. Well, technically they could go a game lower and fall into last place in the Western Conference, but as far as spirits and heartbreak, the team is at rock bottom. No one seems to have answers, either. As Coach Gaines said in the postgame conference after Wednesday's disappointing defeat, "Maybe basketball Gods will give us taps or touches on the other side of the all-star break. You never know."

It is uncertain whether or not the team is just going through an unlucky streak or if the team just isn't what it used to be. The effort and intensity is there, and save for a few possessions here and there, the Mercury don't seem to be doing anything drastically wrong. However, that's the rub: the team isn't doing anything particularly wrong.

Sure, there are a few missed box outs, a couple botched layups here and there, but that shouldn't have as much of an impact as it is. For multiple stretches of Wednesday's game, the Mercury were just plain beaten. That's not to say they couldn't have won; they could have snatched the victory. The Mystics just proved to be the better team, and I think that was the most disappointing part of it.

Excuses, Excuses

Many of the Mercury players and management understand that sometimes, the chips don't fall your way. However, with the losing streak extended to six games and frustration nearing a boiling point, the excuses have begun to creep out. There has been griping about the officiating, complaints about the multiple injuries and maladies the team is enduring, and blame thrown to just plain bad luck.

But the Mercury know better.

Diana Taurasi voiced her opinion on the subject: "We're just falling short. I don't necessarily think we got out-played. We've been playing hard, we've been doing a lot of good things. Right now, we're just getting unlucky, and certain things aren't going our way, but we have to stick with it."

Things may not be going their way, but the only way to endure such a disappointing stretch is to stick with it. In each of the Mercury's championship campaigns (2007 and 2009), June was the worst month of the summer, with the team posting a combined 11-10 record over both seasons. July proved to be much kinder to the team, with a combined record of 16-5 being turned in to end the disappointment. The Mercury can only hope that history is bound to repeat itself.

Cappie's Return

Cappie Pondexter is returning to Phoenix, just not as a member of the home team. Tonight's game marks the first time in Pondexter's career that she will play in Phoenix without donning the Mercury uniform. When asked if returning to town as a member of a different team feels different, Cappie replied, "Definitely, there's a lot of memories here, a lot of great memories, and to be here for so long...it's special, but at the same time, it's business."

Historically, the Mercury and the Liberty have played each other evenly. Over the past five years, the Mercury have had the slight edge, recording a 5-3 record over that span. This season, the Liberty currently sit at fifth place in the much more competitive Eastern Conference, with a record of 7-7.

New York seems to be figuring out how to play together, as well. "It's a new team," said Pondexter of the team's inauspicious start. "You know, I didn't expect for us to come right away. We didn't have training camp, and we're starting to get it. For me, my motto isn't about how we start, but it's about how we finish. We're starting to play New York basketball, and that's what we're looking at."

There's no doubt that the fifth year guard that helped lead the Mercury to its two championships will receive a warm welcome, and rightfully so. But if the Mercury intend to turn the season around, it's got to start by beating the New York Liberty. It's got to come at the expense of spoiling Cappie's homecoming.

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