||Doris Burke is an original member of the WNBA's broadcast team, signing on as radio analyst for the New York Liberty in 1997. She also broadcasts WNBA, NBA, and men's and women's college basketball games for ESPN and ABC and is also a regular contributor to NBA TV. After her career as a player at Providence College, where she set marks in career assists and free throws and is currently ninth in total scoring (1,372 points), Burke served as an assistant coach for her alma mater and was inducted into the Providence College Hall of Fame. She was the first woman to ever broadcast a New York Knicks game and has been nominated for an Emmy.||
Detroit Shock (1) vs. San Antonio Silver Stars (1)
San Antonio got through L.A. in a tough three-game series. They looked like they were almost done several times. But they managed to prevail in another close Game 3 with a couple of tough calls going against the Sparks toward the end.
But the point is this: No team is going to win a title without catching a couple of breaks here and there. If I'm San Antonio, after watching Sophia Young's jump shot go in, I'm feeling like the basketball gods are taking kindly to me right now.
Here's the reality of the situation: San Antonio worked hard all season long to capture home-court advantage. I remember Bill Laimbeer saying how important getting home-court was to him, and look how much it ended up helping them in the Eastern Conference Finals. And it was the same way for San Antonio. Home-court is huge, huge, huge. Now the Silver Stars sit here in the driver's seat because of that home-court. They get a chance to gain momentum at home against a team with considerably more championship experience. And that can only help.
Ann Wauters is one of the keys to this series that keeps popping into my head. How is her ankle, especially after a short turn-around? What's her health like?
Edwige Lawson-Wade and Helen Darling, too, were both wearing casts at practice yesterday, so what's their status? They've both had special moments this season and have made major contributions to this team.
Plenty of Playing Time for Plenette?
The other health issue, the one that I think is more critical to how this series plays out than any of the others, is that of Plenette Pierson. Pierson is unique in her ability to guard multiple positions. When you have the kind of non-traditional posts that San Antonio has -- Ann Wauters, Ruth Riley and, most importantly, Sophia Young, with their ability to step away from the basket and hit jump shots - that often presents a tough matchup for an opposing team's posts. Young, especially, with her blazing speed with the ball, is almost an impossible matchup for any team in this league. But who's the one other player in the league who can match her speed? Plenette Pierson. So I think Detroit needs her to be healthy and to be able to play extended minutes against Sophia Young.
And the problem for the Shock is that there were stretches where Plenette couldn't play in Game 3 against the Liberty. So if you're Detroit, you know the importance of making sure she's good to go.
On Guard in Detroit
Who have been the anchors of their three straight trips to the Finals? Katie Smith and Deanna Nolan. Those are two physically gifted guards who have championship experience and help that team feel buoyed regardless of the score of a game or whether they're up or down in a series. Those two players always give them the mindset that they're in a series.
Tweety, in particular, always comes up big in series like this. She's like the WNBA's version of LeBron James: ridiculously athletic, physically superior and too much elevation on jump shots for anyone else in the league to check them. When they're on, defenders simply can't do anything about it.
There aren't many players who work as hard as Tweety does or who get up and down the floor as quickly as she does.
The Shock's Season-Saving Trade
I also don't think people are making enough of a big deal about the acquisition of Taj McWilliams-Franklin. The reality is this: Detroit without Cheryl Ford and without Taj has absolutely zero chance of making it here into the WNBA Finals. It's Pau Gasol all over again. And look at what Taj does against Janel McCarville in that series.
Taj is smart and she has a steady countenance about her. You don't rattle Taj. You can't make her play faster or slower than she wants to play. But she fits into that system so well at both ends.
I don't buy the notion that Detroit is better without Cheryl Ford. But what you get with Taj is a different set of strengths. You get an offensive game that's a little more polished. She's more sound at scoring the basketball from 15 feet out. She's also more savvy offensively with her ability to use either hand to get by defenders. There's nuance to her offensive game that Cheryl just doesn't have at this point in her career. Will she eventually? Yes, I think so, but Taj is a great replacement.
No Slouches in San Antonio's Backcourt
Detroit has Katie and Tweety in its backcourt, but you also have two excellent guards in San Antonio. And with the Silver Stars, the sum of their parts is better than their individual parts.
Becky Hammon is a superstar. She's been huge all postseason long and would love to get her first WNBA title.
Vickie Johnson is an exceptional veteran player and a terrific passer. She relieves a lot of the pressure on Becky Hammon and is capable of taking the ball up the court and getting San Antonio into its offense. She's a terrific defender.
And because they've played together for so long, both here and previously in New York, there's kind of an innate feel and understanding between them. They each know where the other one wants to be and will be in certain situations.
The Secret to the Series?
But despite all I've said, I'd make the case that Erin Buescher could end up being San Antonio's key to winning this series. I think she was the MVP of the Western Conference Finals win over L.A., with the way she checked Candace Parker, the single best player in the league. Buescher worked her backside off and put her team in a position to beat a higher-powered opponent.
And against Detroit, a very different sort of team than L.A., you can bet Erin will have another tough defensive job ahead of her. You'll be amazed by who she's guarding.
I think San Antonio is going to do everything it can to slow down Detroit and force them to play out of the half-court offense.
Kara Braxton, too, could end up playing a surprisingly large role. What's her influence? How's she playing? Is she on or off tonight? Does San Antonio need to do something special to check her? She's a big body who could have a big impact.
I really think this is going to be a terrific series. I almost can't pick a winner. I honestly think it's a toss-up. San Antonio may be the league's best team, but you have to like the championship experience and the varied pieces of Detroit.