Becky Hammon and the Silver Stars must rally from an 0-2 hole in order to win their first WNBA title.
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SAN ANTONIO, October 3, 2008 -- It’s often easy to simplify the game and point to a theme like experience as to why a team may have an edge. Coming into the 2008 WNBA Finals, the Detroit Shock were tabbed as the team with the advantage by virtue of playing in their third straight championship round and possessing a contingent of veterans that has been through its fair share of late-season battles.
Of course, what actually goes into a series’ result is a little more complicated. Health is important, and that’s something the Shock can attest to just by pointing to last year’s Finals when they didn’t have Cheryl Ford at full strength and were outlasted by a precocious Phoenix Mercury team.
It would be foolish not to cite pure talent, perhaps the overriding factor. There’s a reason most of the top players in the history of the WNBA have rings.
And plain luck can’t be overlooked.
But after witnessing the Silver Stars encounter the same problems as they did in the opener on the way to another disappointing loss in Game 2 of the WNBA Finals, one has to wonder if playing on the grand stage as a team for the first time has them a little overwhelmed.
“We have quite a few veterans, quite a few people who have been here before and have playoff experience so I would hope that we could bring that to the table,” said Stars forward Erin Buescher. “But, yeah, this is the first time this group has been together (in the Finals).
“But we don’t want to make excuses. We just have to clean it up and take responsibility (individually) and collectively as a group.”
Consider if you will that the core of this Silver Stars team, while ripe with star power and veteran leadership, has only been together for about two seasons, and you could make a case that it’s even less than that with this being Ann Wauters' first season with the team.
“Of course it is an experience for us as a team to be here together in this difficult situation right now,” said Wauters. “But I think we have a great team and we have great chemistry. We can overcome this difficult situation and go to Detroit with a clear mind and play 40 minutes of basketball.”
Granted, it’s not like the Silver Stars haven’t faced pressure-packed situations before. They’ve played in and won some of the tightest playoff contests of the past two seasons, including two deciding games against the Sacramento Monarchs and one against the Los Angeles Sparks.
But with higher stakes, the Finals are a different animal and that is manifesting itself right before our eyes as the Stars struggle to figure out a Detroit team that seems to be one step ahead.
Similar to Game 1, the Stars dug themselves an early hole in Game 2 despite playing in the comfort of the AT&T Center and in front of its raucous crowds. It was a second-quarter lapse that gave Detroit the cushion it needed to propel itself to victory in the opener. This time around, it came in the form of allowing an unconscionable 19-2 Detroit run to start the game.
For the second straight game,
On the other end of the court, Becky Hammon once again had to fight her way around every screen as Nolan and Smith made sure nothing came easy, and got little help from her teammates, who either couldn’t put themselves in a good spot or knock down the decent looks they did get.
The Stars missed their initial seven field goal attempts, while the Shock made nine of their first 10.
“I thought we came out a little bit better actually with more energy,” said Hammon. “The problem was we didn't make any shots. And life is difficult when they're shooting 80 percent and we're shooting five percent or whatever it was. It wasn't enough.”
As mentioned earlier, luck has a lot to do with success sometimes, and San Antonio didn’t have much of it on its side Friday. When the missed outside shots started to pile up it prevented the Stars from being able to pull Shock players out to the perimeter and stretch the defense. Thus, things never opened to allow the post game to flourish.
Most affected were Sophia Young and Wauters, whose offensive production is needed if the Stars are going to have a chance in this series. Young hit only 5-of-18 shots from the field, Wauters sank just 6-of-15 and both settled for too many jumpers.
But when a team is missing shots it normally makes for the second straight home game there comes a point when it stops being about bad luck and starts being the result of a team that's pressing and not adjusting properly to what the opponent is doing.
Of course, much like in Game 1, there were flashes of that refined San Antonio team from the regular season. Beginning late in the first quarter and carrying over into the second, the Stars became the aggressors and made the Shock pay for their physical play by getting them into foul trouble. With around six minutes remaining in the second, San Antonio was already in the penalty. A 22-6 burst pulled San Antonio within one at 25-24.
“It's funny, you'll watch when players are unaggressive and unassertive and it's not always that they don't want to be,” said head coach Dan Hughes. “Sometimes it's more analytical, you know -- a thought process that overrides them. I mean, the first thing I did when I found a change in us was we simplified what we were doing, got more basic in our attack and all of a sudden started playing rather than thinking.”
Unfortunately, it didn’t last long enough for the Stars to build their first sizable advantage of the Finals. Detroit responded with a 10-4 stretch to close out the first half and the short-handed Stars, again without the services of Helen Darling and Edwige Lawson-Wade, were forced to play catch-up yet another time.
“The loss of Lawson-Wade has been a void for us in a lot of situations,” said Hughes. “Now we've got to find a different person to complement Becky when they spread the floor.”
The Stars would stay in the game and get their first lead with 2:20 left in the third quarter after Ruth Riley drained a long jumper. But just like with every run San Antonio has made in these Finals, the energy and the momentum dissolved shortly thereafter and Detroit was soon back in control.
In the final quarter, Detroit’s lead stretched to as much as 11 and the Silver Stars were forced to muster one last furious, desperate rally. Having missed its first 12 three-point tries of the game, San Antonio drained four consecutively – three by Hammon – to pull within 66-61 with 1:04 to play.
But just the fact that the Stars had put themselves in this position again to mount a late comeback at home was another troubling sign. It represented yet another Game 1 instance that San Antonio did not want to repeat.
“We don't want to have to rely on, you know, me coming down and pulling off (three-pointers) off no passes, off nothing,” said Hammon. “I mean, those are like you're basically like a quarterback in a football game at that point and you're going no huddle. You're just trying to get anything you possibly can without going through a set defense.”
Suffice it to say, there’s a lot to fix and little time to fix it. Maybe the Stars simply have to go through these tough situations first before eventually learning how to overcome them. Sports are full of such examples.
With Friday’s 69-61 loss the Silver Stars, who won a league best 24 games during the regular season and finished 14-0 versus the East, now must head to Detroit down 0-2 and needing to pull off a comeback yet to be seen in WNBA postseason history.
“I still believe in my team,” said Hammon. “The problem is, I haven't seen my team yet.”