Becky Hammon of the San Antonio Silver Stars, center, attempts to pass around a Detroit Shock double-team.
D. Clarke Evans/NBAE/Getty Images
SAN ANTONIO, October 1, 2008 - Everything changed for the Silver Stars franchise on April 4, 2007, when it traded the rights to No. 2 overall pick Jessica Davenport to the New York Liberty in a draft-day deal and acquired established star Becky Hammon. Prior to her arrival, San Antonio had failed to advance to the postseason in its four seasons since moving from Utah and was mired in a culture of losing.
Seemingly doubted at every stage of her career, Hammon came to San Antonio with a chip on her shoulder and intent on winning a WNBA title. In her first year with the team she proceeded to finish runner-up in the MVP voting after turning in an inspired regular season. More important, she almost single-handedly transformed the Silver Stars into not only a playoff team, but a championship contender.
San Antonio advanced all the way to the Western Conference finals in ’07 before losing to eventual champion Phoenix Mercury. Still, the Silver Stars had the look of an elite team on the brink. They would just have to wait their turn.
While her numbers dipped in the regular season this year, Hammon’s impact wasn’t any less valuable to the squad. It was just more of an indication that the team she helped revive was now feeding off the positive energy she created and becoming less reliant on her. Many experts and fans actually regard Sophia Young as a more apt MVP candidate this time around.
Game 1 of the 2008 WNBA Finals was supposed to be a continuation of this progression as the Silver Stars -- the top seed in the entire playoffs -- hosted the Detroit Shock at AT&T Center.
But one thing became abundantly clear as Hammon struggled through much of the opener against a stifling Detroit defense: the Stars will need the best out of Becky Hammon if they hope to win this series and claim the league’s ultimate prize.
Hammon finished the evening with a disappointing 13 points on 4-of-10 shooting, and nine of those came during the fourth quarter after a desperate San Antonio team had fallen behind by double digits. The Stars lost the game, 77-69, as well as the ever-pivotal home court advantage.
Just a contest prior, Hammon had exploded for a playoff career-high 35 points, including the game’s final seven, to lead the Silver Stars past the Los Angeles Sparks in a tight one and put them into their first ever Finals. It was evident early though that her hot shooting touch hadn't carried over into the Finals opener.
Hammon’s first made field goal Wednesday didn’t come until there were 37 seconds left in the first quarter. Her second didn’t occur until the game was two minutes into the fourth quarter with her team trailing by 14. She didn’t even attempt a shot in the second quarter and threw up only one – a three-pointer that appeared rushed – in the third.
To compound the problem, Hammon failed to contribute significantly in other ways. She totaled a respectable, yet underwhelming five assists and just one rebound. She also committed a game-high four turnovers.
Of course, the Shock came in with a game plan. They did everything they could to make Hammon’s life miserable on the offensive end. The ultra-athletic Deanna Nolan was assigned to Hammon and did a marvelous job of smothering her and forcing San Antonio to consider other options.
“They had a lot of people on me,” said Hammon. “They were trapping me. They were hard-hedging. So I just have to trust my teammates will step up and make them pay for those kinds of things.”
Hammon didn’t get much help offensively early on and as a result the Shock took advantage with the stretch that eventually decided the game. Detroit began the second quarter on a 10-2 burst to build a five-point cushion at 25-20. The Shock went on to outscore the Silver Stars 27-14 in the quarter and hold a 10-point edge at halftime.
At the break, Young was San Antonio’s leading scorer with 10 points, but she shot just 3-of-10 from the floor. As a team, the Silver Stars hit only 32 percent of their shots in the opening 20 minutes.
“Becky’s one of the leading scorers on the team and those kinds of things are going to happen,” said Young. “It’s just up to us to pick her up.”
“Tonight they were focusing on Becky and really not giving her any looks,” said Erin Buescher, who finished with six points and missed all four of her three-point attempts. “It was time for the rest of us to step up and say they are holding Becky back so it’s our turn to help her out or help her get open.”
The help eventually came. Young hit some big buckets during a late rally and finished with 21 points. Ann Wauters contributed 16 points of her own. But it was not enough Wednesday, and it likely won’t be enough for the rest of the series against a team like the Shock.
To her credit, Hammon helped spark a fourth-quarter run that saw the Silver Stars actually tie the game. In the midst of the spurt, Hammon made a couple of her signature drives to the basket that hinted she had finally figured out how to beat the defense. With 2:16 remaining, Hammon hit two free throws and the score was 69-69.
But Detroit responded by hitting a couple of big buckets and built the lead back up. By that time the Stars were out of gas. The energy required to make the run was spent and fatigue had set in. Hammon herself committed a couple of turnovers late as San Antonio attempted unsuccessfully to stay in the game.
“When you bury yourself and put yourself in a hole like that, pretty much everything has to bounce your way,” said Hammon. “We’re a little dinged up and didn’t have too many subs so maybe that played a part down the stretch, not being able to hit big shots because you don’t have your legs.”
San Antonio was without Helen Darling and Edwige Lawson-Wade because of injuries suffered in the previous series with L.A., and thus without any backcourt help off the bench. Coach Dan Hughes used only Ruth Riley and Morenike Atunrase to help spell his starters, but that may soon change out of necessity.
“We’re not anxious to experiment in the WNBA Finals, but the simple reality of having two guards out and having Vickie (Johnson) in a situation where we have to get her in and out a little bit, we may have to look at some personnel situations that might help us counteract that,” said Hughes. “And then hopefully some healing takes place in the next couple days.”
Even if some miraculous healing does take place in time for Game 2, the Silver Stars will still undoubtedly need more out of their leader.