WNBA Finals West Notebook: Aug. 31
By Brad Friedman
DETROIT, Aug. 31 -- For those who think that the Monarchs' impressive 95-71 win over the Shock on the road Wednesday means the crown will remain in Sacramento, recent history suggests that it's not a foregone conclusion.
After two games and three-and-a-half quarters, it looked as though the Dallas Mavericks had the title in hand. But the 2006 NBA Finals experienced a complete turnaround in the fourth quarter of Game 3, when Miami's 13-point comeback in the final 6:34 ultimately led to four straight wins and a Heat title.
"I'm tickled to death that we got home court from the Shock, but that's only one game, and we've got to win two more, somewhere," Sacramento coach John Whisenant said. "Our goal was to win a game here, and we don't want to quit at one, and we know Friday will be a war. They will come at us with all their ammo."
"You know, there's always that danger I think when you beat a team by this margin," added forward Nicole Powell. "At the same time, we have some great leadership in the locker room, we have a great coaching staff. We all know at this point, this game is done and over with and Detroit is going to come back with something for us. We can't kind of rest on our laurels with this first win."
Game 2 takes place Friday at 7:30 p.m. ET (ESPN2) before the series heads to Sacramento for Games 3 and 4.
Detroit was 10-1 during the regular season in games that followed a loss. Their only back-to-back defeats came during the last two contests an eight-day, four-game road trip in the beginning of June. Even in games when their energy should have been drained, the Shock were 7-1 in games on zero days rest. Resiliency is something Detroit has plenty of.
"We have some very strong-willed individuals in our locker room that if they want to do it and they want to band together and they resolve collectively -- this is a collective thing that we have to get accomplished," Bill Laimbeer. "I'm very confident they will pull it together and get it done."
It's All About Rebounding
The Monarchs were in the bottom half of the league's 14 teams in rebounding during the regular season. So how did they neutralize the rebounding edge the Shock seemingly had in this series? With effort. Sacramento collected more misses than the league's top rebounding team, 31-29, many coming on hustle plays.
"I think Kristin Haynie, (Kara) Lawson got their hands on a couple and pulling loose balls out," Shock star Katie Smith said. "They are battling you, and one of best rebounders in the world, you have (Rebekkah) Brunson, DeMya (Walker), just relentless."
Despite winning the battle of the boards, the Monarchs aren't completely satisfied.
"We were kind of are a little disappointed in that because we had such a big lead on the rebounds in the first half, then we end up beating them out only by two, which gives them momentum going into Game 2," forward DeMya Walker said. "That same effort we put forth in the first half, we have to maintain that."
Haynie was the game's unsung hero and sparkplug, collecting four rebounds and five steals in only 16 minutes of play off the bench.
"First Finals game, there's just a lot of excitement, emotions and different energy out there," she said. "We were all ready, all prepared for it. The starters began the game well, and we, the bench, just have to bring the energy out there."
An Answer For Everything
They say good defense leads to offense, and that may have been the case in the Monarchs scoring a WNBA Finals record 95 points. Sacramento forced 24 turnovers, nine more than they committed. That led to 10 more field goal attempts for the Monarchs than the Shock.
Whenever Detroit did something positive, Sacramento responded -- with a steal, basket in the paint or demoralizing three-pointer -- squashing the Shock's momentum before it could ever begin. Kara Lawson and Powell combined to go 10-of-18 from beyond the arc.
"It's frustrating because you do, you want to get a little momentum, you want to get back in the groove," Smith said. "They were getting offensive rebounds, they would knock down a big shot, they would get a steal or whatnot. It was just like a never-ending, uphill battle.
According to Laimbeer, it affected his players' intensity level.
"We got frustrated and a couple players started getting mopey and it affects how you make shots and how you go to loose balls quicker and how you make rebounds," he said.
Production in the Paint
The Monarchs' starting tandem of Walker and Yolanda Griffith proved to be spectaculer in the paint in Game 1, and a large part of the reason why the Monarchs were able to jump out to an early lead and establish control. Walker had 17 points on 7-of-11 shooting in 18 minutes and Griffith had 17 points on 7-of-12 shooting in 26 minutes. These were not the performances most would have expected could be achieved against the likes of Detroit frontline that includes Cheryl Ford, Ruth Riley, Plenette Pierson and Kara Braxton.
"I don't even know if we were playing basketball right now," Griffith said of the physical play in the lane. "But we just have to keep our composure and not worry about getting knocked down or beat up. It's a physical game and somebody's trying to win a championship."
With the Monarchs guards shooting 10-of-19 from three-point range, it was difficult for the Shock to know what to defend. Both Sacramento's perimeter and interior games fed off each other in Game 1.
"When you have some outside shooters like Colely (Powell) and K-Law (Lawson) knocking the shots down, you pretty much can't sag in the paint like L.A. and Houston did against us," Griffith said. "If our guards knock the shots down, they basically have to play us straight up, one-on-one."
Added Walker, "For us, we have to continue to work hard in the paint, it opens up our guards. The Shock are very good defensively, so if you can take advantage of you offensive opportunities, get them thinking a bit, maybe that will make them less imposing offensively, because they are capable.
"You always want to get your opponent thinking as much as possible about all the wrong things."
In putting together Wednesday's blowout win, the Monarchs accomplished just that. It's doubtful the Shock will have anything on their minds but the crushing play of Sacramento until the tip-off of Game 2.