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The two best teams in the league during the regular season, the Detroit Shock and Phoenix Mercury will finally decide things for good when they meet in the 2007 WNBA Finals. The Shock outlasted the Liberty and Fever despite dropping the first game of each series on the road while the Mercury swept the Storm and Silver Stars en route to their second appearance in the Finals.
The defending WNBA champions picked up right where they left off last year and cruised to the best record in the WNBA in 2007. The Shock were so good, in fact, that they were able to relax in the last week of the season and give the reserves some more playing time. Detroit won its first seven games and were 24-6 before letting up a bit and coasting in the last week of the regular season. The Shock were once again led by the super backcourt duo of Deanna Nolan and Katie Smith, who combined to average more than 30 points per game. Nolan was the Most Valuable Player of last year's Finals, but Smith was also instrumental in the run to winning her first title. Both are capable of playing the point and shooting the lights out when they get hot despite playing inconsistenly in the first two rounds.
Forward Swin Cash, who spent much of the past few seasons recovering from injuries, bounced back to average 11.1 ppg and 6.1 rpg in the regular season and even came up with several clutch shots in the first and second rounds. The team captain is a vocal leader and the glue that holds her star teammates together and even got to rest her legs a bit during these past two weeks.
As good as the starters are, this may also be the deepest team in the WNBA. Reserve forward Plenette Pierson was named the league's Sixth Woman of the Year (11.6 ppg, 5.9 rpg) and both starting center Kara Braxton and 6-8 reserve center Katie Feenstra pose matchup problems for the opposition whenever they are in the game. Shannon Johnson and Elaine Powell have a great deal of WNBA experience to spell the guards.
Meanwhile, the Mercury come into the Finals as the "inexperienced" team. Phoenix had not won a playoff series since 1998 before their two playoff series sweeps. But with the amount of talent that they have amassed over the past few seasons, it was only a matter of time before the Mercury rose to the top. With three All-Stars who finished in the top 10 in scoring (something never done before in the history of the WNBA), the Phoenix Mercury averaged a WNBA record 88.8 points per game. They scored 101 and 95 points in the two first-round games and are capable of scoring 100 points on any given night, outrunning and outscoring their opponents on a regular basis.
Guard Diana Taurasi led the WNBA in scoring last season and came on strong to finish third in 2007. She scored more than 20 points in 14 games, though she was not relied upon to score as much as last year. That's because teammates Cappie Pondexter, Penny Taylor and Tangela Smith all also averaged in double figures. Having them all together in the lineup for the entire season was the key to the team's success. The Mercury were able to stay healthy and kept their regular starting lineup intact all season long. Pondexter is the leading scorer in the postseason with 26.2 ppg.
The continued development of Taylor is one of the primary reasons this team was able to take it to the next level. Taylor missed much of last season, yet was the MVP of the World Championships and is one of the most underrated players in the WNBA. She finished the 2007 regular season with career-best averages in scoring and rebounding (17.9 ppg, 6.4 rpg). The draft-day trade that brought Smith to Phoenix in exchange for the first overall pick has been paying big dividends for the Mercury. The 10-year veteran had another fine season, averaging 12.6 ppg, leading the team in rebounds and playing the most minutes of any player on her team. Point guard Kelly Miller was the only starter not to average double figures in scoring (she narrowly missed out), but she helps keep things organized, distributes the ball and was among the league leaders in assists. Off the bench, Kelly Mazzante is capable of knocking down shots and Kelly Schumacher gives the team another big body to rebound and start the breaks.
The Mercury did give up the most points in the WNBA this past season, but showed that they can clamp down and get defensive when they have to, limiting Lauren Jackson in the first round and getting key stops against San Antonio when needed in the second round.
2007 Regular Season: Detroit Shock 2 - Phoenix Mercury 0
Some fast facts about the Shock-Mercury Finals matchup:
Eight different members of the Shock roster have led the
team in scoring this season: Deanna Nolan, Katie Smith, Plenette Pierson,
Cheryl Ford, Swin Cash, Shannon Johnson, Katie Feenstra and even rookie
Ivory Latta. Seven different players have been the leading rebounder
The Shock were not the highest scoring team in the WNBA this season (they finished third), but their scoring margin differential was nearly five points per game, best in the league. That is more than 1.5 ppg better than the Mercury, who finished in second place. That statistic has proven to be one of the best indicators of postseason success.
Mercury All-Stars Diana Taurasi, Cappie Pondexter and Penny Taylor combined to average 54.2 points per game. That's a lot, but it's not a record. The top-scoring trio of teammates in WNBA history is Cynthia Cooper, Sheryl Swoopes and Tina Thompson, who combined to score 55.3 ppg in 2000.
Taurasi led the WNBA in 3-pointers made for the second straight season. She shattered Katie Smith's record last season by connecting on 121 shots from beyond the arc and knocked down more than 90 this season
Friday, June 22, US Airways Center, Phoenix, AZ: Shock
87, Mercury 84 | Box
Detroit Leaders: Shannon Johnson (23 pts.), Kara Braxton (17 pts., 12 reb.)
Phoenix Leader: Penny Taylor (23 pts., 10 reb.)
NBA TV Highlights: Play
Sunday, July 8, Palace of Auburn Hills, Detroit, MI: Shock
111, Mercury 82 | Box
Detroit Leaders: Katie Smith (20 pts., 3 ast.), Plenette Pierson (13 pts., 14 reb.)
Phoenix Leader: Tangela Smith (16 pts., 6 reb.)
NBA TV Highlights: Play | Webcast Archive