Doris Burke’s Keys To the Series: WNBA Finals
By Doris Burke, WNBA.com
Here we go again, the 2006 WNBA Finals are here and I could not be more excited. Immediately after the end of the Eastern Conference Finals and the matchup was set, I thought about the great potential that this series has. There is also great potential for the series to go five games and be as competitive a series as we've seen at this level.
The Shock and Monarchs are two teams that pride themselves on their defense and their rebounding. Yet both have a penchant to disappear on offense at times. Which ever team minimizes its mistakes and avoids long stretches of offensive ineffectiveness will win the series.
Detroit faces a similar challnege in the Finals as what they faced in Eastern Conference Finals. Just like Connecticut, Sacramento's strength is the sum of their of their parts. They are not defined by the individual stars. In his post-Game 3 comments, Sun coach Mike Thibault called Detroit the most physically gifted team in the WNBA. No one questions their individual abilities, but what they have questioned, and you can include me in that, is their focus on a nightly basis and their team chemistry.
I think the challange that Sacramento faces is contending with the phenomenal skills of Detroit's backcourt. It will be a major task for Nicole Powell and Kara Lawson to grapple with in terms of individual defense. Of course, the Shock also possess the most imposing front line that the WNBA has to offer. Everyone knows that the Sacramento Monarchs are special because of their white line defense. But inherent in that is individual defensive skill. Lawson and Powell are much improved as defenders, but the fact remains that neither possesses great foot speed. They compensate for this with smarts and study.
The two ways that teams have tried to attack the Sacramento's defense have been with the lob and the dribble penetration. Deanna Nolan is a player who, when she wants to be dominant, can take over a game and score pretty much at will. There is not an individual defender who can check her one-on-one. She stops on a dime faster and elevates higher than any woman, so it is hard to contest her shots.
For Detroit to have success in this series, it is really important for Swin Cash to be involved and for Cheryl Ford to get back to the level that she was at during the regular season. For long stretches of the season, Cheryl was a legitimate M.V.P. candidate, carrying her teammates when they were inconsistent. She needs to get back to that. The bench also needs to be consistent and because of Sacramento's depth, Plenette Pierson and Kara Braxton have to be a part of this series. Braxton is an amazing physical talent and has the potential to be a dominant force in this league. If she buys into Laimbeer and Mahorn like Plenette Pierson has, she will be an All-Star. It's time she proves it on a night-by-night basis.
Shock center Ruth Riley may very well be an x-factor. Looking back at the championship season in 2003, Ruth absolutely put a hurt on Lisa Lesie, the premiere center in the game. She is playing with confidence after playing well in Game 3 and will look to build on that in this series.
For the Monarchs, as much as I question Kara Lawson having to contend with Nolan or Katie Smith, she is as improved a player as there is in the league. She has added an ability to go off the bounce to an already lethal jumpshot. She mixes that dribble drive in with enough consistency to contest and contain at the same time, which is difficult to do.
I would expect Ticha Penicheiro to defend Nolan as she is a better athlete and Powell has to contend with Swin Cash. Ticha is better defender against 2-gaurds than point guards. This might be the series where the Monarchs miss Chelsea Newton more than any other time this year. Ticha is a good defender and understands how to keep people in front of her, contests shots and gets over screens. But it will be a huge challenge for any individual defender to check Deanna.
Offensively, Penicheiro's ability to hit timely shots could really have a huge impact on this series. If there is one player who can come off of the double or throw a different look at the Shock, she would be my candidate. She has shown is a willingness and ability to hit big shots in big moments, plus she is an outstanding passer in transition, a coach on floor and a great leader that her teammates looks to in big moments.
What can I say about Yolanda Griffith? She is playing as well as I have ever seen her play, which is amazing considering she has been an M.V.P., a Finals M.V.P. and an Olympic gold medalist. Plus, she is not 100% physically! Her frontcourt partners, whether it is DeMya Walker and Rebekkah Brunson, have to do their best to keep Sacramento close on the rebounding front. Detroit is such a dominant rebounding team, but in an ideal world, you can get one of them in foul trouble and test Braxton's ability to contribute.
Sacramento's bench has been an integral part of their success because Coach John Whisenant's system requires fresh legs. They need depth to play his system. Hamchetou Maiga-Ba brings athleticism off the bench and gives you another defender on the perimeter. She has length and spee out in transition and can even put some pressure on Detroit's defense. She is not shy offensively. Erin Buescher brings another body, and although she is not a protypical banger, she does have the size, aggressiveness and athleticism to help Sacramento on the glass
The strength of Sacramento's white line defense is that it is a fundamentally sound defense. It requires constant pressure on the ball handler, constant denial of the wing passes, fronting of the post players and when a teammate gets beat, that white line defense has to be sound, rotation solid.
Again, I see this series being very competitive and even going the distance. Either way, it should be great to watch.