The San Antonio Silver Stars entered their first WNBA finals with home-court advantage and an unblemished record against the Eastern Conference. A loss in the series opener left them with neither.
After handing the Silver Stars their first loss against a team from the East in more than a year, the Detroit Shock look to move one step closer to their third championship in six seasons as they visit San Antonio for Game 2 of the best-of-five series Friday night.
San Antonio had to feel good about its chances in its first WNBA finals, thanks to a league-best 24-10 regular-season record that gave the Silver Stars home-court advantage throughout the playoffs, as well as a 14-0 mark against the East.
The Silver Stars, though, can't be as confident after falling 77-69 to the Shock in Game 1 Wednesday night for their first loss to an opponent from the East since last Aug. 17.
"Maybe we were taking this homecourt for granted," said San Antonio guard Becky Hammon, who was held to 13 points after averaging 20.2 in her first six games of the postseason. "You just can't be comfortable. You have to understand that homecourt is great, but you still have to go out there and put in the work. They came in with a more determined mentality, and that can't happen again on our court."
Like San Antonio, Detroit had its leading scorer struggle in the series opener. Veteran guard Deanna Nolan, who averaged 15.8 points in the regular season, was held to 10 and 5-for-16 shooting.
The Shock, though, got big contributions from Katie Smith and Taj McWilliams-Franklin, who delivered 25 and 24 points, respectively.
"Katie and Taj set the tone for us," said Nolan, the 2006 finals MVP. "It's not necessarily that I have to get off (and score) because we have other players that can step in and help."
McWilliams-Franklin, acquired in a trade from Washington in August, was 11-for-16 from the field and added seven rebounds. She's been integral to the postseason success of the Shock, who lost All-Star forward Cheryl Ford to a season-ending knee injury in July and have been without forward Plenette Pierson for three of their last five games because of a shoulder injury. Pierson is questionable for Friday.
"I think (the trade) has worked well because we have players who are not only prolific scorers, but they're unselfish," said McWilliams-Franklin, who joined a Detroit team that won titles in 2003 and 2006 and is making its third consecutive finals appearance.
"I came to a place where these girls only care about winning. They are willing to pass when they're doubled and willing to pass when you are open. That made it so much easier to integrate myself into the offense."
Though frustrated with his team's performance in the opener, Silver Stars coach Dan Hughes saw reasons for optimism. In the first finals game in franchise history, San Antonio overcame a 14-point fourth-quarter deficit to tie the game at 69 with 2:16 remaining before giving up the game's final eight points.
"I love the fact that my team made a good comeback," Hughes said. "I think we learned some thing in this basketball game. Obviously, didn't learn enough. But I do think as the game transitioned ... we were more in a flow that I hoped we would create."
Hughes' club hopes to find a similar groove Friday at AT&T Center, where it's 3-2 in the playoffs after posting a 15-2 record there during the regular season.
Game 3 will be Sunday at The Palace of Auburn Hills.