Vickie Johnson, left, and Becky Hammon played in the WNBA Finals as members of the New York Liberty.
D. Lippitt/Einstein/NBAE/Getty Images
“It’s exciting,” said Silver Stars guard Becky Hammon. “If anything it should get your blood pumping a little bit more than usual and just go out there and have a good time.”
There were enough wide eyes to make one wonder if the Silver Stars were just happy to be involved in the upcoming 2008 WNBA Finals and about to fall into a Game 1 trap against a gritty Detroit Shock team that knows what it takes. After all, the Silver Stars squeaked by the Sparks to reach the Finals for the first time in franchise history and Detroit will be making its third straight appearance in the championship round and fourth overall.
But after talking to head coach Dan Hughes and his players it was clear Tuesday that the team’s enthusiasm wasn’t so much a case of blissful ignorance prior to embarking upon a new frontier, but rather an eagerness to start the series and complete that last step toward the ultimate goal – winning a WNBA title.
And the Silver Stars have reason to be confident beyond the obvious reasons of owning the best record in the league and home court advantage in this series. While it’s the Shock who enter this series as proud owners of the “experienced” label, it must be noted that a few of the Stars’ key players have reached this level before and a couple have even come away with championship jewelry. Starting small forward Erin Buescher was a member of the Sacramento Monarchs team that won it all 2005, Ruth Riley was the MVP of 2003 WNBA Finals as a member of the Shock, of course, and Hammon and Vickie Johnson both made multiple Finals appearances during their time as teammates with the Liberty.
“We have people who have been WNBA champions, who have played in this series of games, who have been through a lot of experiences,” said Hughes. “Within the mixture of your team it’s always important to have that feature. Each team is kind of unique in how they bond together, but the fact that we have some of those players is not lost on us and I think it will be very helpful.”
With both teams possessing experience to draw upon, other factors likely will have a greater impact in deciding who holds up the trophy at series’ end.
“I always felt like in my past Finals experiences we had to have breaks in order to beat those other teams,” said Hammon, who played in three WNBA Finals with New York. “I felt like we had to have everything go our way. This year is different in the fact that I truly feel like we are the best team. We’ve put in the work. We’ve put in the time with each other to go out there and have this home court advantage.”
“We’re a very hungry team,” said Riley, who spent four seasons with the Shock before being traded to San Antonio prior to last season. “We have a lot of players – young and old – that have a desire to get that championship.”
Guards Helen Darling and Edwige Lawson-Wade, who both missed Game 3 against the Sparks after suffering right leg injuries in Game 2, were in uniform at practice Tuesday, but wore protective boots and watched from the sideline.
Officially, they are day-to-day and if both aren’t able to go in the opener and beyond it would hamper an already thin San Antonio rotation at the most inopportune time. The Stars were able to get away with just bringing two players off the bench in Game 3 versus L.A., but that’ll be a tougher task to stretch out over a best-of-five series should Darling and Lawson-Wade not be able to contribute.
But Hughes isn’t one to make excuses, nor is he about to panic should he be without the services of his steady backup guards.
“We’re banged up, but I would gather that almost every team is banged up to some degree,” said Hughes. “I see that as a reality this time of year, a reality to the fact that we’re playing basketball in October. It’s not something that should get in our way.”
The Silver Stars swept the season series with the Shock, 2-0, but don't put much credence into it. For one thing, the last time the teams played Detroit was without Plenette Pierson, Elaine Powell, Cheryl Ford and Sheri Sam. You could also add that the Shock were minus Taj McWilliams-Franklin, who has since been acquired by the team via trade and given them a more-than-adequate replacement for the injured Ford.
"The addition of Taj McWilliams-Franklin was a pivotal move," said Hughes. "We have not played them with her. She makes them a better basketball team in lots of ways. She gives them experience and presence."
Silver Stars forward Sophia Young, a precocious phenom in the midst of a sensational postseason, will likely draw the tough assignment of defending the soon-to-be 38-year-old.
“Taj is a great player," said Young. "She’s a veteran and extremely smart. She definitely knows the game."
To this point, nobody has been able to slow down Detroit guard/forward Deanna Nolan, who through six games is averaging 20.9 points per game, which is on pace to be the best postseason clip of her career. She was Indiana’s problem, then New York’s problem and now she’s San Antonio’s problem.
“We have to do all that we can to 1.) get her out of her favorite spots or 2.) at least make her have to work to get open, work to get her shots or work having to guard somebody,” said Hughes.
Hammon’s approach echoed that of Hughes.
“Really you just try to slow her down,” said Hammon. “You’re not going to hold her. You just have to try to make her night difficult, see if you can’t contain her and just maybe limit her touches. You can’t deny her because she’s too fast. She just poses problems, so we’re just going to need a great individual effort on her and also a very team-oriented effort on her.”
NEW YORK STATE OF MIND
Sure, Hammon is ecstatic to be back in the WNBA Finals to get another chance to play for that elusive WNBA championship, and likely doesn’t care who her opponent is. But is there a part of her that wanted to play the team for which she first made her mark in the league – the New York Liberty?
“I would have loved to play New York,” said Hammon. “They had a great year. They have a lot to be excited about. They have a lot of young players, so the future is very bright for them. It would have been great to play them, but that’s not the way it was supposed to work out.
“Sometimes you’ve got to put in more work. I know for me to be here, and for VJ to be here, we’ve put in a lot of work to get here. Sometimes you just got to keep sowing those good seeds and eventually you’re going to reap the harvest. Maybe they just have another year to sow.”