It's one of those terms you might have used all your life, but perhaps never knew exactly what its origin was. Well, I'm here to tell you I don't exactly know the origin of it, either. But I say it all the time, usually fondly: second banana.
A popular explanation is that second banana is a show-business term from the early 1900s. It may (or may not) have originated with a comedian named Frank Lebowitz, who used bananas in his act. So whoever acted as his straight man was termed "the second banana."
There are many variations of this story, but I suppose I should get to the point already. Whatever the exact origin of second banana, it's not a pejorative term but not necessarily regarded as complimentary, either. However, it really should be. My favorite sitcom character ever, "Rhoda" of "Mary Tyler Moore Show" fame, is second banana, so clearly it's a compliment coming from me.
Thusly, we give kudos to Indiana's Katie Douglas and Phoenix's Penny Taylor, generally regarded as the highly respected "SBs" for their teams. But they were highly successful "BSs" in Tuesday's two WNBA elimination games, from which the Fever and Mercury moved on to their conference finals.
Wait a second by "SB," obviously I meant "second banana." And by "BS," of course I meant "big star." What other terms did you think I was referring to with those abbreviations? Huh? What kind of R-rated column do you think this is?
OK, actually, Monday's Seattle-Phoenix game did appear to be brought to us by the letter "F." As in "foul" and um
The WNBA is kid-friendly to the core, but this game might have had parents covering the eyes of young-uns who were still up that late. No advanced lip-reading skills were necessary to discern the feelings of Phoenix's Diana Taurasi, in particular. The Mercury's top banana went bananas after fouling out with 6 minutes, 38 seconds left. Mucho profanity ensued. How could Phoenix pull this game off without her?
A quick look at the history: The Storm beat the Mercury seven times last season on the way to winning the WNBA championship. Then Seattle won three-of-four against Phoenix in this regular season, and the playoff opener at KeyArena.
Actually, the Mercury didn't just lose last Thursday's game in Seattle. They got clobbered, 80-61. Taylor, who battled back issues and missed five of the last six games in the regular season, looked as if she was quite sore Thursday. And the Mercury looked discouraged.
But these are the situations in which we know from many years of watching Taurasi that she is very dangerous. Not just because of how often she has played well with her back against the wall, but how much her confidence spreads to her teammates.
Put it this way: If Taurasi were being forced by dastardly pirates to walk the plank, she would still somehow be utterly convinced -- and be able to convince others -- that she had the upper hand.
Saturday in Game 2 at Phoenix, Taurasi had 26 points, while teammate Candice Dupree led the way with 29. The Mercury's 92-83 win sent the series back to Seattle, which for opponents most of the time really is like walking the plank.
Monday, the Game 3 we got between the Storm and Mercury was like one of those free-for-all sword fights from a pirate movie -- except not actually as well choreographed or safe. There might have been a few NFL games on Sunday, in fact, that weren't as hard-hitting as the Storm-Mercury battle. Sometimes about the only thing separating it from a cage-fighting bout was that there was no cage.
It looked briefly as if the Mercury staff would have to find one for the livid Taurasi after she fouled out with 19 points. But instead, she adjusted the throttle from furious to very grumpy as she spent the last six-plus minutes watching her teammates pull out an amazing win.
Taylor had 19 points and 17 rebounds, and this might be the game that the PT Fan Club cherishes most of any she has played so far. Because at crunch time, there was no DT to turn to, and there would be no tomorrow in 2011 if the Taylor-led group couldn't hold off the Storm.
Now, there really is no such term as "third banana." But if there were, and it was also a compliment, we'd use it for Dupree. Phoenix won its 2007 and '09 WNBA titles with a three-star system -- Taurasi, Taylor and Cappie Pondexter (more on her later) -- but now that third star is Dupree. And she earned her stripes in these last two games.
Saturday, she was 12-of-14 from the field for her 29 points. Monday, she had 20 points, including a putback with 1.9 seconds to play for the game winner after rebounding Taylor's miss.
As for Seattle this one really will sting. The Storm led by as much as 18 on their home court, and didn't have to deal with Taurasi for the last six-and-a-half minutes. However, Seattle also lost one of its starters, Camille Little, to foul trouble just six seconds after Taurasi exited.
Seattle's Swin Cash was 3-of -1 from the field; Katie Smith was 0-of-9. Sue Bird led the Storm with 22 points and Lauren Jackson had 18. But LJ wasn't her MVP-caliber self, obviously, after coming back from a hip injury that cost her the bulk of this season.
The bottom line, though, was the unbreakable resolve of Phoenix, which is something we saw from Indiana, too, earlier in the evening.
The Fever's 72-62 victory over New York was overshadowed Monday by the heavyweight bout that followed it out West. But back to the banana bit Douglas has been the valued sidekick to Tamika Catchings since coming to the Fever. However, there are games where Douglas, like Phoenix's Taylor, becomes the featured performer.
Such was the case Monday. Douglas completed an outstanding first round of the playoffs with 21 points and superb defense against New York star Pondexter, who finished with 11 points on 4-of-14 shooting. Douglas had 25 points in the series opener last Thursday, and 20 Saturday in the Fever's loss.
Catchings didn't exactly surrender star billing, though. She had 17 points, eight rebounds and four assists. The Fever's "reward" in the Eastern Conference finals is to have to face Atlanta, which defeated Indiana all four times during the regular season.
Meanwhile, the Mercury can tune in Tuesday (ESPN2, 8 p.m. ET) to see if Minnesota, the team with the best record in the WNBA this season, can win that franchise's first playoff series. If not, Phoenix's Western Conference finals foe will be San Antonio, which is trying to win Game 3 on its opponent's home court, just as the Mercury did.
Here's a suggestion for Phoenix's dessert while watching Tuesday's game: banana splits.
Mechelle Voepel, a regular contributor to ESPN.com, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read her blog at mechellevoepelblog.com.