Doris Burke’s Keys To the Series:
Eastern Conference First Round
By Doris Burke, WNBA.com
As the first round gets underway on Thursday, we will look at all four first round series. First up, the Eastern Conference...
I am not sure that I can come up with enough adjectives to give an accurate descriptiion of the Connecticut Sun. Balanced, versatile, deep, cohesive, unselfish, well-coached. Maybe the most important thing, though is that they are experienced and tested as a team. At these moments in the playoffs, you cannot anticipate that they will self destruct in any situation.
The only thing that two things that have hurt Connecticut this year have been rebounding and turnovers. Coach Mike Thibault hold his team to such high standards so there were games this season that even though they were wins, he expressed frustration because of turnovers, careless passes, unsuccessful "home run" passes that had no chance of ever reaching their intended target. Those are the things that Connecticut has to be careful of. Those are season-long habits that are hard to break. The Playoffs are a time when things come into sharper focus and teams cam capitialize on them.
The interesting thing about this matchup is that Washington has potential in those two areas. When they beat the Sun earlier this season, they rebounded the ball well, particularly on the offensive boards. It enabled them to stretch the lead. That will be very important in Game One on their home turf. They would love to get a big cushion and put the defending Eastern Conference Champions on their heels. Chasity Melvin was absolutely huge in that game and I believe she needs to have a great series and be highly productive in rebounding at both ends of the floor.
In DeLisha Milton-Jones, Crystal Robinson and Alana Beard, the Mystics have three outstanding defenders. They are long, smart and quick. At times this season, Coach Richie Adubato was unable to use his full-court pressure. Beard had some injury issues, then Milton-Jones got hurt and Robinson has been banged up because of her age. When all three are healthy and can get into that full-court set, bringing Coco Miller off the bench, this can be a very dangerous team. Healthwise, Milton-Jones is as close to 100% as we can expect her to be.
Washington's best chance at stealing a win will be with good rebounding and forcing Connecticut into making turnovers. The Mystics need to take Game One if at all possible. The Mystics have been a strong home team this year and while I think Coach Thibault is the best coach in the league, Richie Adubato is a master at game perparation. The Mystics will mix their coverages against Connecticut's three best offensive weapons, perhaps as well as any team in the league. They will mix defensive looks on the pick and roll, on the skip passes, the lob passes and the high-lows inside. They will try to come with doubles and maybe go under the screen-and-roll with Beard. It should be interesting. These are two very good X-and-O coaches going against one another. It's going to be a lot of fun and I think Connecticut will ultimately prevail.
This matchup fascinates me. The regular season series split at two games apiece with the winner of each of those four games had the home court and the rebounding differential. . The largest margin of victory in any of the four games was only 10 points. The highest shooting percentage from the floor by either team in any game was 41 percent by Detroit in a 71-63 win. That is pretty amazing.
Detroit remains to me the most physically overwhelming team, especially up front. They are, of course, followed by Connecticut and Sacramento. I recall talking with Mike Thibault earlier this season where he said to me that the Sun would love to see Indiana and Detroit meet in the first round because it will be a knockdown, drag-out fight.
Tamika Catchings is so gifted and the Fever completely revamped their roster in the offseason, but the acquisitions of forward Tamika Whitmore and guard Anna DeForge have had a major impact. These two players are so offensive-minded that they do not really pass up shots that they know they can make under any circumstances. In the past, the Fever had players around Tamika Catchings who, because of Catchings' great skill, were willing to defer to her. What makes Whitmore and DeForge such special additions to that unit is that the fact that, yes, they recognize Tamika Catchings' amazing talent, but understand that their strength is also putting the ball in the basket. You can definitely anticipate scoring from them in this series.
The one key for the Fever is rebounding the basketball. In Indiana's two wins against Detroit earlier this season, center Ebony Hoffman had 10 and 13 rebounds respectively in the game. When you play Detroit, you have to come with big bodies. Hoffman gives the Fever interior strength to contend with the likes of Ruth Riley, Cheryl Ford and Kara Braxton. Detroit has enough offensive weapons now and has really taken a step forward. Their field goal percentages from 2- and 3-point range are up, they are getting to the free throw line a little bit more. Detroit has the capability to produce more offensive explosiveness than the Fever, but Indiana knows who it is.
To me, the player who sets the tone, the first player you are going to meet when you come across half court is guard Tully Bevilaqua. She plays so hard and tough, setting the tone. I do not think she gets enough credit. I'll admit that I have sold short in the past. She is just a hard-nosed, gritty player who understands her strengths and weaknesses. Indiana wins games based on its defensive prowess. The question becomes, who do you match Bevilaqua up against? Last season, she took Becky Hammon out of their first round series, but Tully and Becky are roughly the same size. Becky could not out-muscle or tower over Tully, but the fascinating thing about Detroit is that they are big and strong at every position. Even Swin Cash and Deanna Nolan, although their frames are thin, they are strong and explosive athletes. Swin is getting back to where she was before her injury, especially in her free throw attempts.
The question for Detroit coming into this season was could they win without a true point guard. Early on, I was very impressed with Detroit's ability to guard opponents. They are big and strong at every position, athletic enough on the wing to get our and guard people out there, Katie Smith is a much better defender than people give her credit for and she is so smart. She understands angles, knows how to use her physical strength for a little lack of speed. But this team is unselfish, they are finding themselves and they can defend incredibly well.
I honestly think this series could come down to home court advantage.