Contest takes place Wednesday, 7:30 p.m. ET on ESPN2
Game 1 WNBA Finals Preview
DETROIT, Mich., Aug. 29, 2006 -- One squad features a group of players who've been named to the All-Star team over the last two years. The other is built around an aging veteran who conserved what fuel she has left for the postseason. Their goals are one in the same: Win the 2006 WNBA Championship.
On Wednesday night, the Detroit Shock host the Sacramento Monarchs in Game 1 of the WNBA Finals at 7:30 p.m. ET (ESPN2). The pair split the season series 1-1, with Detroit winning at home July 26, 91-71, and the Monarchs getting their revenge, 94-61, in Sacramento four nights later.
It will be the second consecutive season the defending WNBA champs Monarchs compete in the WNBA Finals. However, 2005 Finals MVP Yolanda Griffith and Sacramento didn't find immediate success when they stepped on the court this year. The Monarchs got out of the gate slowly before winning seven straight following the All-Star break only to finish the season by losing five of the last 10 games. Griffith, 36, averaged a career-low 12.0 points per game in reduced minutes (25.1 mpg) during the regular season.
But in the playoffs, Griffith has stepped up, posting 16.5 points per game and looking as unstoppable as she did in last season's Finals. In doing so, Sacramento has plowed over opponents, going undefeated in the playoffs so far in the role of No. 2 seed.
The Monarchs toppled regular season Western Conference champion L.A. Sparks in the conference finals, stealing Game 1 at home and beating the Sparks by 14 on the road in Game 2, 72-58.
Detroit's path to the Finals went through Connecticut, who played in Game 1 without star guard Katie Douglas because of a non-displaced hairline fracture of the foot. The series went to a decisive Game 3, but the Shock easily grabbed the road victory, 79-55.
The Shock forced Connecticut to heave 25 three-pointers in that game, and it's the story of what they've been doing to teams all year: make them shoot low-percentage outside shots. Clubs shot .388 from the field against Detroit in the regular season and .363 in the postseason thus far. It's difficult to beat the Shock defenders off the dribble because of their lateral quickness, with players like Deanna Nolan and Swin Cash on the perimeter. On the inside, Detroit is one of the league's best at defending the interior, able to throw Cheryl Ford, the WNBA's leading rebounder (11.3 rpg), as well as bigs Ruth Riley, Plenette Pierson and Kara Braxton at opponents.
Sacramento beat the Sun in the 2006 Finals riding the efforts of center Griffith when all else failed. Griffith is a year older now, and this is a Shock team with a lot of weapons to patrol the pain.
The Monarchs need to make their jump shots to win in Game 1. Particularly, that responsibility will be assigned to guard Kara Lawson, who's stepped up her scoring significantly in the playoffs by averaging 13.5 points, as well as guard/forward Nicole Powell and guard Scholanda Dorrell.
Sacramento's pressing white line defense will attack Detroit's slashing ball-handlers -- leading-scorer Nolan, sharp-shooter Katie Smith and versatile forward Cash. Eleven Monarchs averaged double-figure minutes during the regular season. Key players include: Erin Buescher; the league's Most Improved Player and a quality low post scorer; Powell, the perimeter shooter; DeMya Walker, who missed the start of the season because of a pregnancy but was an All-Star in 2005; Lawson, a cagy guard with leadership skills; Rebekkah Brunson, a talented rebounder who focuses on that; and Ticha Penicheiro, a dependable decision-maker and distributor.
If the Monarchs can wear the Shock down physically, Detroit's ability to force opponents into low-percentage shots could be diminished. The Shock are a team of stars but their rotation is short, and Sacramento hopes their breath will be, too.
Game 2 takes place Friday, September 1, 7:30 p.m. ET on ESPN2.