Katie Smith scored 22 points on 8-of-15 shooting, including 4-of-8 from three-point range, in Detroit's Game 3 win.
Jeffrey Bottari/NBAE/Getty Images
Detroit’s Guards Rise in Phoenix
By Mark Bodenrader, WNBA.com

PHOENIX, Sept. 11 -- In Game 1, Detroit’s inside game showed up. In Game 2, nobody showed up. And in Game 3, it was all about the perimeter players.

It’s scary to think how good the Shock would be in these 2007 WNBA Finals if they put together a full game, because without one to this point they hold a 2-1 edge and are only one win away from their second straight championship.

Prior to Game 3, the typically reliable starting backcourt of Deanna Nolan and Katie Smith had been taking some heat for not being bigger factors in the series.

Nolan, the team’s leading scorer in the regular season and playoffs, had totaled just 23 points through the first two games in the Finals. More important, she seemed to be rushing up her shot against the Phoenix zone instead of being the more assertive offensive force Detroit fans have become accustomed to.

Smith entered Game 3 shooting 28 percent from the floor for the playoffs and was coming off a Game 2 effort in which she scored five points on just seven field goal attempts.

All that changed Tuesday though, as Smith (22) and Nolan (20) along with backcourt reserve Shannon Johnson (11) combined for 53 of the Shock’s 88 points.

“We came out and hit shots, shots that we weren’t hitting in Game 2,” said Nolan about the performance of the team’s guards. “We were taking our time and not settling for the first open shot, but actually kicking the ball to get a better shot and we were just knocking them down.”

And it’s a good thing Detroit’s guards came to play too because the inside game just wasn’t there offensively outside of Plenette Pierson, who was the only frontcourt player to score in double figures with 12.

And aside from Cheryl Ford, Detroit’s bigs had an uncharacteristically off night on the boards. The run-and-gun Mercury actually outrebounded the Shock for the first time in this series, 47-42, and Nolan was the team’s second-leading rebounder with 11, behind only Ford’s 13.

But that might say more about Nolan’s approach to Game 3 than anything else. It was clear from the outset Nolan wanted to attack the rim, create opportunities for herself and her teammates and be around the ball at all times. After the first quarter, she was already filling up the stat sheet with five points, five rebounds and three assists. At the break she was the team’s leading rebounder (seven) and top assist person (four).

In the second half, Nolan concentrated more on scoring, with 13 of her 20 points coming after the break.

“I tried to be a little more aggressive and tried get in the lane because that’s my game,” said Nolan, who also managed to finish with a team-high six assists. “I looked for my shot a little more this time.”

Nolan’s three-pointer with 1:53 left in the fourth quarter was arguably the biggest shot in the game, as it gave Detroit a five-point advantage at 82-77 after Phoenix had just cut it to two. The Mercury wouldn’t get any closer than three the rest of the way, and Nolan made sure of that by hitting four free throws in the final seconds to ice the game.

While Nolan’s three late in the fourth may have been the dagger, Shock head coach Bill Laimbeer claimed Smith was the author of the game’s defining moment.

“I thought the turning point in the game was her three or four shots that she made in a row there,” said Laimbeer about Smith, who scored 11 straight points for the Shock in the third quarter. “She had all the confidence in the world. She knew it was her time to make those shots and she did. And that's Katie Smith, that's who she is. She's a tremendous competitor and ball player. And when the game is on the line, she's going to make those plays.”

Smith came out firing in Game 3 after shying away from her shot in the previous contest and with 3:47 left in the first quarter she had already surpassed her Game 2 point total.

Smith was outshined in the early stages only by Johnson, who drained a couple shots from beyond the arc and posted a team-high 11 points in the first half to help propel the Shock to a lead they would never relinquish.

“That’s what we’re here for, just to bring a spark and do what we can whenever we’re in the game,” said Johnson, referring to the team’s bench. “That’s what we tried to do tonight.”

It wasn’t even a contest as to which team’s bench played a bigger role in Tuesday’s affair. The Shock’s reserves had 19 points before Phoenix’s scored any, and for the game they held a sizable 31-6 advantage.

So I guess you could say it was the play of the guards and the bench that led the Shock to a pivotal victory in Game 3 on Phoenix’s court.

“One game you get this, but the other game is a totally different ballgame,” said Smith. “Different people do different things, or different people step up. It’s so hard because one game is never identical to the next. You have to go into games with your game plan, but you also have to be able to adjust on the fly to things that are working and to things that aren’t.”

But if the starting guards and reserves carry this momentum into Game 4 on Thursday and Detroit's dominant inside play returns, there's a good chance they won't have to worry about game-planning for a while.