Wings Exit Postseason, Look to Future

 

By Dorothy J. Gentry

 

For all it took to get there; in the end, it just wasn’t meant to be.

For the second straight year, the Dallas Wings were eliminated in the first round of the WNBA playoffs, this time at the hands of the Phoenix Mercury in Arizona by a score of 101-83.

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“I think our team really battled,” said interim head coach Taj McWilliams-Franklin. “Phoenix played out of their minds and had some great shooting from their big three and they really carried them throughout the game.

“Our players took a hit, kept going, kept pushing, and we’re really proud of the future of the Dallas Wings.”

However, it’s a future filled with uncertainty. League MVP candidate Liz Cambage - who just a day earlier won the WNBA scoring title for the first time in her career – recently announced publicly that she is not  committed to returning to the league. She cited being away from her Australian home and family, as well as more favorable opportunities to play overseas and earn money as catalysts for her non-committal stance.

Last night’s heartbreaking loss seems to have softened her stance somewhat.

“Yeah. Heart break has always made me hungrier. My first taste of the playoffs and it’s left a bitter taste in my mouth,” she said after finishing with 22 points and 12 rebounds.

“I love this team and I’ve loved my time in Dallas. I’m heartbroken that it’s come to an end. I’m going to miss seeing these girls every day and that little taste makes me want it more, it makes me want to do more, it makes me want to be better with my team. I have to see how I am feeling after China, but I want to be here talking about a win next year. I want a ring and I want to keep playing with Sky (Skylar Diggins). She is the best point guard in the league. I love this team, we’ve gone through so much this season, and I’ve really loved my time back in the WNBA.”

The Australian center has been an electrifying  presence in the League this year, setting or breaking several franchise and WNBA  records including scoring the most points in a game (53) and the highest-scoring average over a six-game period (206 total points). Losing  her would be a huge blow to the Wings who paired her with guard Skylar Diggins-Smith to create one of the league’s most dominant duos.

The future also remains uncertain for the Wings as they prepare for an offseason search for a head coach for the first  time in five years. Fred Williams was fired after an 8-game losing streak that saw the team all of a sudden clinging to playoff hopes after rising to No. 3 in the standings only a month earlier.

McWilliams-Franklin took over the reigns for the remainder of the season, finishing with one win and two losses, not including the loss to Phoenix in the playoffs. A key question is whether she wants the job permanently and if so, is that an option or will the organization go in a different way entirely?

Other off-season concerns include the health and rehab of Karima Christmas-Kelly, who went down with a season-ending knee injury early in the season.

Playoff Match-up

The Wings looked forward to meeting the Mercury, a team they lost the season series to, 1-2. In the first quarter the Wings and Mercury tied six times, with the Mercury ending the first up by five 29-24. Diggins-Smith had 10 points in the first quarter.

Things looked great for the Wings as they went on an 8-4 run in the opening minutes to tie the game. With under one minute in the quarter, Diggins-Smith and Glory Johnson turned it up scoring five points combined to pull within one, 50-49. Phoenix’s Diana Taurasi answered back scoring a 3-point shot with eight seconds left to end the first half 53-49.

The third quarter Wings failed to show up this time, scoring only 15 points to Phoenix’s 26. They weren’t  able to get ahead for long in the fourth quarter as the Mercury widened their lead for good.

Cambage and Diggins-Smith ended the night with a combined 54 points. Kayla Thornton scored eight, while Azurá Stevens, Johnson and Maggie Lucas all brought in seven.

McWilliams-Franklin said of Phoenix’s third-quarter run that opened up the game for them:  “Our kids are young. This is the millennial generation. They have short memories which is great because they still kept pushing, and in the fourth quarter we got it down to 15.

“When you have confidence the basket is humongous. Dewanna Bonner hitting the two bank shots, Diana Taurasi hitting the three with one-second on the shot clock, you cannot say that there’s a defense we can run for that; that’s just good old fashion luck,” she said. “But we lost by more than just those nine points. The rest of it is on us and our defense on them.”

Diggins-Smith said of trying to compete and bounce back from Phoenix’s third-quarter run: “Basketball is a game of runs, it’s not something new. They made shots and we turned the ball over. I’m not taking anything away from Phoenix tonight, they have a lot of capable scorers and shooters,” she said.

“I thought the biggest difference to me besides the big three was Stephanie Talbot. She got on the boards, a lot of offensive rebounds, and a lot of second-chance points.”

As the Wings head back to Dallas to wrap up the season and go their separate ways, McWilliams-Franklin took a moment to reflect on the overall season:

“Challenging, emotional. I believe that you can’t have a happy ending every time unless you go through some things. You have to have a test for your testimony to work,” she said.

“We’ve gone through a lot of things and I think it makes our players stronger. I was just talking to our leader in the hallway and she is mad more than sad, because she knows we have the potential and we’ve gone through all this stuff for a reason.

“So even through all the ups and downs of the season we still come out positive about our future and the future of the Wings.”