On her first visit to San Antonio, Detroit's Deanna Nolan found her path to victory blocked by Sophia Young. She expects more this time around.
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The star guard of the Shock believes her team can beat the San Antonio Silver Stars not once but twice on their home court, which was virtually impenetrable this season.
"We are coming in trying to get one, maybe two on the road," Nolan said Tuesday, one day before the Shock and San Antonio Silver Stars face each other in the opener of the WNBA Finals. "Considering that they have home-court advantage, it gives us the opportunity to win it on our home court.
"We are a great road team. We are able and capable of winning two on the road."
Yes, "Tweety" is perhaps the fastest player in the WNBA. But with that speed, she may be getting a little ahead of herself. The Finals have not yet tipped off, and Nolan already has Detroit getting two games at San Antonio and wrapping up its third title back in Motown.
There's nothing wrong with a little confidence. And if Nolan or any of her teammates didn't believe they could win in San Antonio, there's no sense staying in town, unless they plan on strolling the Riverwalk or taking a tour of The Alamo.
But saying you are going to beat the Silver Stars at the AT&T Center and actually doing it are two different things. San Antonio was 15-2 at home during the regular season, including a sterling 11-0 vs. 2008 playoff teams.
The Shock were one of those victims, dropping a 79-72 overtime decision on July 1 in which Nolan made just 5-of-17 shots. Detroit coach
"Weíre a much better defensive team than we were then," he said. "The first time we were here and we lost, we didnít get a couple of calls down the stretch and still had an opportunity to win the game Ė but we missed a shot at the end of regulation."
Laimbeer is well aware that his team doesn't have the luxury it had a year ago of a potential Game 5 on its home floor. That didn't work out so well, as the Shock could not close out the Finals at Phoenix and lost the series finale on their home floor. In a way, not having home-court advantage could instill a greater sense of urgency in his players.
"I canít go in the locker room in Game 1 and say, 'Win the home games and youíre the champions,'" he said. "But weíre 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. Weíre a very close-knit, trusting team. We trust each other. And thatís what wins road games."
Nolan's notion that the Shock are a "great road team" is a bit misleading. The Shock were 8-9 on the road this season, matching the best mark of any Eastern Conference team. However, the only team that finished above .500 on the road was San Antonio, which went 9-8 away from home, including a win at Detroit.
The Silver Stars did drop Game 2 vs. Sacramento at the AT&T Center and barely sneaked past Los Angeles in both of their home games in the Western Conference Finals, so they can be had on their home floor. But they do have a raucous crowd that stays involved throughout. And with San Antonio in the Finals for the first time, it should be pretty rowdy.
"We've worked hard to get the home-court advantage," Silver Stars forward Sophia Young said. "It has helped us out in each series, and hopefully it will help us in this one as well. I love the fans and I love playing in this arena. I think our team has a great chemistry here and itís just a completely different atmosphere."
"These guys get great crowds down here in San Antonio," Shock guard Katie Smith said. "Watching the games the other night, the crowds were nice. Energy-wise, that will hopefully help us out too in the sense of understanding how big a game and how much fun itís going to be."
Unlike her backcourt mate Nolan, Smith refused to get ahead of herself.
"Home-court advantage is not foolproof, but it definitely helps," she said.