Deanna Nolan is playing in her fourth WNBA Finals with the Detroit Shock.
Allen Einstein/NBAE/Getty Images
SAN ANTONIO, September 30, 2008 – The Detroit Shock arrived at the AT&T Center this afternoon to hold its first media session for the 2008 WNBA Finals. You could see that the hype of the Finals is nothing new for the Shock. They are used to the extra reporters, the microphones and cameras in their faces, the promo spots to tape for ESPN. They’ve been around this block before – three straight times to be exact.
Bill Laimbeer and his Shock team have been in the Finals the past three years and four of the last six and definitely have a been there, done that approach to this. San Antonio on the other hand is in the championship series for the first time in its franchise history.
"Dealing with media will probably be a little bigger crunch for them than normal,” Laimbeer said of the Silver Stars. “Also, moving to a five game series will be different for them. And just the people wanting tickets, wanting this and wanting that, everybody wants something. You have your time being taken here or there; family is in town, family is traveling. All the stuff like that, it’s just a different environment.”
While the environment of the Finals may be second nature to the Shock, opening a series on an opposing team’s floor is not. In each of their first three Finals appearance, the Shock held the home-court advantage. It helped them capture titles in 2003 and 2006, but could not help them against the Phoenix Mercury a year ago.
“I can’t go in the locker room in Game 1 and say, ‘win your home games and you’re the champions,’” Laimbeer said. “But we’re a very confident road team. We think we can go in any building and play our game and win. Nobody scares us. No arena scares us. We’re a very close knit, trusting team. We trust each other. And that’s what wins road games.”
The Shock have not fared so well away from home this season as they tallied a 8-9 record during the regular season and have yet to win a road game in the playoffs. They are now in a position where they must win a road game in order to win the series.
“Home-court advantage is always a plus, but we feel that we’re a good team on the road,” said Deanna Nolan. “Even though this year we didn’t show it with our record, we’re a great team on the road. We are coming in trying to get one maybe two on the road. Of course, considering that they have home-court advantage, it gives us the opportunity to win it on our home court.”
Katie Smith was quick to point out that having home-court advantage does not guarantee anything, a lesson the Shock learned a year ago when the Mercury became the first team to clinch the title on the road.
“Having home-court advantage doesn’t necessarily mean that you win,” she said. “Last year we had the best record in the league and Phoenix came through and whacked us in the first game of the series. Anything can happen. You just have to play the game.”
PLENETTE IN PAIN
Forward Plenette Pierson made a surprise appearance in the Eastern Conference Finals against New York after suffering a shoulder injury during the Conference Semifinals. After sitting out Game 1, Pierson suited up for Game 2 and gave Laimbeer and the Shock her usual spark off of the bench. She was able to play just under 24 minutes and contributed 10 points and four rebounds. However, in Game 3 she took a hard fall and had to leave the game after just six minutes of play.
Pierson’s availability and effectiveness will be a major key to this series as she is the Shock’s best defensive matchup for San Antonio All-Star Sophia Young.
“We’ll call it a game-time decision and that’s not trying to fool anybody,” Laimbeer said. “She is significantly injured. We can get the swelling down, but then when she fatigues it, it comes back. It’s really the swelling that causes the limit of the motion.”
If Pierson is able to play, do not expect her to change the way she plays because of the injury.
“That fall last game hurt, but things like that are going to happen,” she said. “If I play I’m going to fall, I’m going to get hit, I just have to play through it and hope that the pain is not that great. I have to put the injury out of my mind for that moment and hope that my adrenaline takes over and do what I have to do and play through the pain. If it gets too unbearable I have to trust in my teammates that they’re going to get it done and take myself out.”
Communication between Shock trainer Laura Ramus, Laimbeer and Pierson has been critical during this time to make sure Pierson does not injure herself further as she tries to help the team fight for a championship.
Pierson will continue to receive treatment this evening and tomorrow in hopes that she will be available for Game 1.
“There’s a lot of different things going on with the treatment; it’s usually all night long,” Pierson said. “There are different machines, ice, turnip patches, and massages. I really believe that it’s all night long. Laura comes to my room at all times of the night. Half of the time I’m asleep or trying to sleep. As soon as I get to the hotel, that’s when it starts.”
In this year’s playoffs, Nolan is averaging a team-high 20.7 points and has put her team on her back offensively at times during the Shock’s run to the Finals. Nolan has always been an unselfish player with a pass first, shoot second attitude, despite urges from Laimbeer to look for her shot more. That has changed this postseason.
“She has learned that she is the show, there’s no question about that,” Laimbeer said. “She knows her responsibility; she knows that she has to carry us at times. It’s always been coming, but in this years playoffs especially, it’s blossomed. She is now what was her destiny was back when she came out and they called her Michael Jordan. She is now becoming that type of a player.”
Nolan may have to fight what comes naturally for her, but it has benefitted not only her PPG in the box score, but her team as well.
“I think my natural instinct sometimes is to get everyone else involved first and that’s what Bill doesn’t like about me,” she said with a laugh. “It’s good but at the same time, when you’re on a bigger stage you have to take your shots. When they take that away, that’s when you get everyone else going.”
HORNBUCKLE ATTEMPTS DOUBLE
It has happened only once in the history of the WNBA – a player has won a NCAA Championship and a WNBA title in the same year. That honor goes to Tiffany Woosley, who was a member of the University of Tennessee’s 1997 championship team and the Houston Comets championship squad in the WNBA’s inaugural season.
Shock rookie Alexis Hornbuckle is looking to join her fellow Lady Vol in the history book this season. After helping Tennessee capture back to back championships in 2007 and 2008, Hornbuckle was selected by the Shock with the fourth overall pick in the 2008 WNBA Draft. It is rare that a team finishing the prior season with the best record in the league lands a top four pick, but the Shock acquired the pick after trading former All-Star Swin Cash. For Hornbuckle, it provided a unique situation to go from one championship team to another.
“In college you have a choice in what school you want to go to and you want to pick a school that fits you and is in the top 25, so when I got drafted to Detroit, I was excited because they are always competing for be in the Finals,” Hornbuckle said. “I was blessed and happy. I told my parents I couldn’t be put in a better situation.”
Hornbuckle has been a strong role player off of the bench for Laimbeer throughout her rookie season and finished first in the league in steals per game. She is currently averaging 6.0 points, 4.7 rebounds and 1.5 assists in 24.0 minutes per game in the playoffs.
While Hornbuckle may become the second player to pull off the NCAA-WNBA double, she will become the first to do it while being part of the regular rotation for her WNBA team. Woosley played in only one playoff game for a total of three minutes in 1997.
HOME AWAY FROM HOME FOR TAJ
While the Shock are on the road for the first two games of the Finals, forward/center Taj McWilliams-Franklin has the luxury of making her home in San Antonio.
"This is my home-court advantage,” she said. “I live here so I get to sleep in my own bed just like the San Antonio players. It’s a little home cooking for me, so I hope it helps me. We’ve got to steal one here, so I hope it helps me to be at home.”
Feeling at home on the road is nothing new for McWilliams-Franklin. In the past two season she has been traded from Connecticut to Los Angeles, Los Angeles to Washington and from Washington to Detroit.
“That’s my life; I’m a military brat from birth. I’ve played at different places oversees. I finally just got a house here in San Antonio. But that’s how I move; I work the best like that,” she said. “I love the different atmospheres. I love the differences between LA and Connecticut, LA and Washington and then being in Detroit, which is different than any of the teams I’ve played on. It’s cool for me because I can adapt to pretty much anything and I’ve adapted here and fit in pretty well here with these girls and enjoy playing with them and hanging around with them daily.”