Katie Smith poses with her new hardware: the WNBA championship trophy and the WNBA Finals MVP award.
Garrett Ellwood/NBAE/Getty Images
YPSILANTI, MI, October 5, 2008 – Katie Smith played nearly every minute of the 2008 WNBA Finals and left no doubt about who was the best player on the court when her Detroit Shock completed its sweep of the San Antonio Silver Stars on Sunday night to win their third championship in six years.
Not only was she the Shock’s leading scorer in every game, but as Shock coach Bill Laimbeer said throughout the Finals, she imposed her will on the series both offensively and defensively.
“I congratulate Katie Smith,” said Laimbeer. “I don't give her all the credit that she deserves throughout the course of the year, and she really showed it.
“Katie decided that I’m going to make my mark on this series and she did.”
Smith quickly established her dominance in Game 1 by posting a playoff career-high 25 points to lead the Shock to a road win in San Antonio. She followed that up with 22 points in Game 2 and hit every clutch shot the Shock needed as the Silver Stars tried to mount a comeback.
In the championship-clinching Game 3, she sparked the Shock’s second half surge toward the title. After picking up her second foul early in the second quarter, Smith was taken out of the game for the first time all series. She had to sit on the bench for the remainder of the half and watch her squad struggle without her on the floor.
At the half, Detroit had scored just 30 points, shot 30 percent from the field and committed seven turnovers. The Shock were lucky to be down by just four points heading into the second half, which is when Smith took over.
She scored 15 points in the second half, including 11 in the fourth quarter, as the Shock built an 18-point lead and cruised to the championship.
“Katie Smith said ‘I’m not going to lose this game, I’m going to make the big shots right here’ and once she made a couple we knew the game was over and we ran out the clock,” said Laimbeer of Smith’s fourth quarter performance.
Once the confetti settled and the championship trophy was presented, everyone in the arena knew who would receive the Most Valuable Player trophy.
"There’s no more deserving MVP; that was a no brainer,” said Taj McWilliams-Franklin. “If I look at all three games and had to choose a MVP, I would say Katie Smith, Katie Smith, Katie Smith. There was no contest.”
While Smith was happy to win MVP honors, she was more pleased with the fact that she and her teammates were able to raise their games when the stakes were at their highest.
“It’s not necessarily the award, but it’s performing on the biggest stage and for all us its being able to give your best and do your job it makes you feel good,” she said. “You don’t want to get out there, fouling out, turning the ball over left and right, you want to play a good game at the biggest time. And for myself, I was able to contribute where I need to contribute and we got it done.”
Smith was also quick to point out the contributions that her teammates made during their championship run through the postseason.
“Winning the MVP trophy, it is awesome, but I’ll tell you what, Tweety was the MVP probably of the last round,” said Smith. “You’ve got people that have been doing work and even people that don’t put points on the board. With Plenette every minute she gave us was huge. This MVP is for our squad. And for Laura Ramus, our trainer, for keeping us out there.”
While Smith was hesistant to sing her own praises, her teammates were not.
“She’s beasty,” said assistant coach Rick Mahorn. “Katie Smith said get on her shoulders and ride it and that’s what we did. We know what our bread and butter is.”
“She’s a monster, she’s our horse,” said Plenette Pierson. “We ride her and Deanna all night. When shots are falling for her, it's great for the rest of us and she just played big tonight.”
“Katie Smith is a competitor,” said McWilliams-Franklin. “If she’s in water polo she’s going to want to win. It’s just in her being to want to do the best she possibly can for as long as she possibly can no matter what it is she’s doing. That’s just her bottom line.”
The bottom line for this series is that San Antonio had no answer for Smith. As San Antonio guard Becky Hammon said after Game 2: “Katie Smith has just been killing us. We're going have to find a solution for her.” The Silver Stars never could find that solution throughout this series.
This is Smith’s second WNBA title with the Shock and this year’s title has special meaning to her because of how difficult the road was this season. The Shock had to endure injuries to Pierson, Cheryl Ford and Elaine Powell, suspensions for Pierson, Mahorn and others, and making an in-season trade for McWilliams-Franklin, who Smith says the Shock would not be in the Finals without.
“With what we’ve gone through this means a ton,” she said. “Knowing this squad, I knew that we would grind it out and we’d find a way to get here. And honestly with all that went down, we wanted to be here, we wanted to finish this thing off, we wanted to prove that it doesn’t matter what goes on, we’re going to fight, we’re going to be there and we’re a good basketball team.”
The Shock was not the only good basketball team Smith was a part of this year. Along with becoming a two-time WNBA champion in 2008, she also became a three-time Olympic gold medalist after winning gold with USA Basketball in Beijing.
“They’re different but you know what they’re both very, very special,” she said. “I’m glad I got them this year and I can sit back and relax.”
Smith will have plenty of time to reflect on this year and what she was able to accomplish both as an individual and as a member of a team that has now earned dynasty status in the WNBA.
“I love this team, I love this staff,” she said. “I never thought it would be like this when I got traded here. I was like ‘Man where am I going?’ But you know what, it’s been the best thing ever.”