The last game is the hardest to win in the WNBA
Closing The Door
PHOENIX, September 12 -- If there is one thing we've learned from the previous WNBA Finals in league history, it is that the last win is always the hardest to get.
|Winning the last game has always proven to be a challenge for teams in the WNBA Finals.|
|Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty Images|
But whether it is the distraction of being one win away from a championship, seeing the champagne on ice and the victorious T-shirts and hats in some back office, or perhaps sensing the presence of the Finals trophy (which still lacks a name) in the building, closing the door is rarely easy. Perhaps it has as much to do with the opposition as it does with the team on the brink. Teams find a way to win when they play with desperation, with their proverbial backs against the wall (though there are no walls around a basketball court).
And no one knows that better than the Detroit Shock. Just last year, the Sacramento Monarchs won Game 3 to take a commanding 2-1 lead in the Finals, yet could not close it out in Game 4 at home against Detroit. The Shock forced the issue, winning Game 4 on the road, and ultimately won Game 5 back at home in Detroit.
"Last year we went on the road and became a lot more focused," Shock forward Swin Cash said. "It helps unify our team a little bit and limits the distractions. The road has been pretty good to us."
The road was good to them again in Game 3, when the Shock desperately needed to win at least one game in Phoenix. In fact, over the past two seasons, this Detroit team has played its best basketball when it was desperate. Down 1-0 against the New York Liberty in the first round and the Indiana Fever in the Conference Finals, they rallied back both times to advance (they're here, aren't they?).
But now the tables have turned and it is the Mercury who find themselves in dire circumstances.
"Of course it's going to be tough, just because it's an elimination game for them," Shock guard Deanna Nolan said.
History is not on Detroit's side in this game either. Complicating matters for the Shock in Game 4 is that no team has ever closed out a Finals series on the road. In the 10 previous WNBA Finals, no championship celebration has ever taken place on an opposing team's floor.
Back in 2003, when the Finals were still in the best-of-three format, the Los Angeles Sparks won Game 1, but could not win on the road in Detroit and ultimately lost the Finals in a deciding Game 3 at The Palace. The same thing happened a year later in 2004, when the Connecticut Sun went up 1-0 at home, but could win neither Game 2 nor Game 3 in Seattle (paging Betty Lennox).
We all know what happened in 1999, with the Comets up 1-0 and looking to close out the series at home. But the Liberty and Teresa Weatherspoon (with perhaps some intervention from above) had other plans. The Comets did ultimately win in three games, but even the first dynasty in WNBA history was not immune to close-out struggles.
Even the Phoenix Mercury were one game away from winning a championship in 1998, the first (and last) time they were in the Finals. Phoenix defeated Houston 54-51 at home in a classic Game 1, but lost Games 2 and 3 in Houston as the Comets won their second of four rings (more of that not being able to close out on the road business).
But the Shock think they can change that.
"Anytime we play on that edge, we play really well," Cash said. "If I know Diana (Taurasi), I know she and her teammates are going to come out with a lot of fire. They need a win, so we'll just have to play Shock basketball like we played in Games 1 and 3. Physical, play smart and limit the mistakes."
And two big psychological hurdles have now been cleared. Detroit has now proven that it can win on the road in the 2007 Playoffs while the Mercury have shown they are vulnerable at home (what a difference one game makes).
"I expect Phoenix to play hard for the entire game, not just 10 minutes here or there," Shock guard Shannon Johnson said after Game 3. "They'll be at home, they have pride and we know they worked hard to get here also and won't go down without a fight."
But unlike teams that have trouble finishing things off (and letting things go on longer than they need to), I don't have that problem.
See you at Game 4.