Detroit's Deanna Nolan blocks the shot of San Antonio's Becky Hammon during Game 2 of the WNBA Finals.
D. Clarke Evans/NBAE/Getty Images
SAN ANTONIO, October 3, 2008 – Two outstanding defensive performances have put the Detroit Shock within one win of capturing their third WNBA title in the last five years.
In Friday night’s 69-61 win in Game 2 of the WNBA Finals, the Shock once again were able to take San Antonio’s Big Three of Becky Hammon, Sophia Young and Ann Wauters out of their comfort zones and make them work extremely hard for everything they were able to get.
The defensive effort comes as little surprise to Shock coach Bill Laimbeer.
“That’s what we do and we’ve done that every year since I’ve been here,” he said. “I have two fine coaches in Cheryl Reeve and Rick Mahorn that are in charge of the defense and they take that very seriously. Our players are great defenders individually and once you come with a good defensive game plan, they follow it.”
In the first two games of the Finals, the Silver Stars are averaging just 65 points as opposed to the 74.9 points they averaged in the regular season and the 74.3 points they averaged in the playoffs. The Silver Stars have been held below 20 points in every quarter but one in this series – the fourth quarter of Game 1 when they scored 20 points.
San Antonio’s shooting percentages have plummeted as well, especially from 3-point range. In the Finals, San Antonio is shooting 37.8 percent from the field and just 17.8 percent from 3-point range. During the regular season, San Antonio shot 43.3 percent from the field and 34.0 percent from long range.
Prior to a hot streak in the fourth quarter of Game 2 by Hammon and Vickie Johnson, San Antonio had made only one of its first 24 attempts from 3-point range.
“We’re making sure we’re pushing them off of the 3-point line,” said Taj McWilliams-Franklin. “Becky opens up so much because she is such a prolific 3-point shooter that when we push her off the line, it pushes her in the paint where (Young and Wauters) are used to being alone.”
McWilliams-Franklin explains that by funneling Hammon away from the 3-point line and into the paint, it forces Young and Wauters out of the paint and to the perimeter. By doing this, the Shock are taking away Hammon as a 3-point threat and moving Young and Wauters off of the block and out on the perimeter, where they are less effective offensively and not in position to grab offensive rebounds.
“We’re getting them out of what they normally like to do,” said Deanna Nolan. “We’re taking away the inside where they like the one-on-one post up. We’re forcing them to make outside shots and they can shoot as many of those as they want. We’ll allow them to take that 15 or 17 footer until they start hitting it consistently, then we’ll adjust to it.”
Detroit has no need to adjust its defense yet. In Game 2, Young scored just 11 points on 5-of-18 shooting, while Wauters scored 13 on 6-of-15 shooting. Combined, they shot just 33.3 percent from the field and scored 24 points.
“As a post player I know I didn’t hit as many jumpers as I did the first game,” said McWilliams-Franklin. “They’re not all going to fall for us bigs because that’s not our thing. Our thing is to bang inside and get mismatches and get buckets. That’s what we’re trying to do with them; we’re trying to keep them away from what they like to do best.”
In Game 2, Hammon was able to score a game-high 24 points on a combination of free throws (11-of-12) and a flurry of 3-pointers late in the game. Despite her points, the Shock were still pleased with their efforts against San Antonio's leader.
“We’re still playing great defense on Becky,” said Nolan. “The threes she got at the end were her first good looks.”
Rookie Alexis Hornbuckle, who has played crucial minutes down the stretch of both Finals games due to her defensive abilities, credits preparation and a desire not to be the weak link for the Shock’s success defensively thus far.
“It’s all about being in tune to the scouting report, watching the previous films from the first two series and even when they played us earlier in the year,” she said. “Everybody is in tune with what they have to do in order to make the game easier for us and we’re making it difficult for Sophia to score, we’re making it difficult for Wauters to score, everybody.
“And when you have that, it’s like the waterfall effect. When you see Katie up there playing good defense, you don’t want to be the one to let down and let your man get an easy basket.”
McWilliams-Franklin said the Shock have to continue to make life difficult for San Antonio’s Big Three in order to close the series out.
“Sophia likes to drive on you, so I’m trying to keep her in front of me or push her into help; Ann Wauters has a great back to the basket move, so we’re trying to keep her pushed out and shooting those jumpers on the wing,” she said. “And Becky can do it all and we’re just trying to limit what she can do – we’re not going to stop her – but we’re trying to limit what she can do. It’s been working so far, but you never know about Game 3.”
If the Shock can put together a third consecutive excellent defensive performance on Sunday, they could be raising their third WNBA championship trophy once the night is done.