Hoffman’s Resurgence Comes at an Opportune Time
By Brian Martin, WNBA.com

Ebony Hoffman is averaging a team-high 20.3 on 71 percent shooting from the field and 67 percent from three-point range.
Ron Hoskins/NBAE/Getty Images

INDIANAPOLIS, IN, October 6, 2009 -- Even the best shooters in the world go through slumps. Shots that they routinely knock down continually bounce off the rim. Shooting percentages plummet and frustration rises.

As the WNBA calendar turned to its final month, Ebony Hoffman’s shot abandoned her. From Aug. 29 until the Fever's regular-season finale on Sept. 13, Hoffman shot 21 percent from the field (15-of-72) and seven percent from three-point range (1-of-14).

As the Fever were preparing to enter the playoffs with their eyes set on a championship, Hoffman was a mess and she admits that she was rattled by her poor play down the stretch.

“I went through a little slump there where my confidence was shaken because I wasn’t hitting my shots like I usually do,” she said. “And when you don’t have confidence in your shot everything else slacks; you unknowingly slack in your rebounding, you unknowingly slack in your defense because you’re so worried about the other side of the floor.”

As the playoffs got underway, things didn’t get much better for Hoffman as she failed to score and committed five fouls in just 16 minutes of play in the Fever’s Game 1 win over the Washington Mystics.

Game 2 of the series was an improvement for Hoffman, who scored eight points on 2-of-3 shooting and grabbed eight rebounds as the Fever closed out the Mystics. But the fact that she only shot the ball three times in 29 minutes on the floor showed that she was still gunshy.

“I was hesitating and I don’t usually hesitate,” she said. “You miss one and you think you should have made it and it just snowballs into something else, like a domino effect. I let it overtake me in the first series.”

Hoffman’s teammates could see the difference in her game and could see the effect it was having on the Fever as a whole.

“I could absolutely see that she was rattled out there,” said Katie Douglas. “It was an Ebony that I had not seen. At the beginning of the season Ebony was the Ebony from last year, the Most Improved Player. But then there was a hesitation, there was like a hitch in every movement and every decision that she would make and when you start playing hesitated other things start trickling down. You miss a box out, you miss a defensive assignment. It’s kind of like a tsunami of things that kind of go into it when you start to hesitate.”

Conf. Semis Conf. Finals WNBA Finals
Pts. 4.0 9.7 20.3
FG% 0.500 0.414 0.706
3P% 0.000 0.200 0.667
Reb. 4.0 4.3 5.7

Douglas, who said Hoffman is one of her closest friends on the team, tried to offer encouragement while also keeping things light and positive.

“I told her: ‘Hey just relax and play your game; you’ve been working so hard, putting in so many hours, and we’ve worked together as a team to get to this point so just enjoy it. Don’t beat yourself up about what happened in the last stretch of games. We have nothing but confidence in you and don’t second-guess yourself out there. Just play your game; we’re going to be there to help you.’”

As the Fever moved into the Eastern Conference Finals, Hoffman had made up her mind that she was not going to second-guess herself in the biggest playoff series of her life at that point.

“I just had to let go and just say ‘You know if it happens, it happens; if it doesn’t, it doesn’t,” said Hoffman. “But I have to take that shot. I have to take the open shots.”

After scoring just six points on 3-of-8 shooting in the Fever’s Game 1 loss, Hoffman responded in Game 2. With the Fever's season on the line, Hoffman scored 13 points and did not miss a shot in five attempts from the field as the Fever won Game 2 to force a winner-take-all Game 3 the following day.

It was Game 3 against Detroit that proved to be the tipping point for Hoffman and the Fever. After the Shock had knocked them out of the playoffs for three straight years, this was the Fever’s opportunity to expel the demons that haunted them and get past their nemesis. For Hoffman, she was given a chance to knock out her September swoon as the game entered the final minutes with the Fever clinging to a two-point lead.

“I was terrible from the field that day,” said Hoffman. “I was 3-for-15 going into the last two minutes and Catch [Tamika Catchings] kicks it to me in the corner. I had the shot, but I saw Cheryl Ford coming out on me and that’s a big girl coming out, so I pump-faked her and shot the ball. I hadn’t made a lot of pull-up jumpers from that point but I had enough confidence then to take the shot and make the shot.

“Right then is when I started thinking ‘I can do it again; I’m back, it’s all back together now.’ And it’s all been great ever since," Hoffman said.

The Fever never trailed after Hoffman’s clutch 15-foot jumper as they defeated the Shock to advance to their first-ever WNBA Finals.

All signs of Hoffman’s slump have disappeared in the Finals as she is averaging a team-high 20.3 points through the first three games of the series and shooting a blistering 71 percent from the field and 67 percent from three-point range.

She has been able to put her entire offensive repertoire on display against the Phoenix Mercury, who have had no answer for Hoffman’s ability to score inside the paint and out on the perimeter.

“I have been trying to create a lot of matchup problems,” Hoffman said. “If I feel like it’s someone who I can overpower, I’m going to take them in the post. If I feel like it’s somebody that I can get around I’m going to get on the perimeter and try to go around them out her.

“Coach has been putting me in great positions to get the ball and she's been utilizing my strengths and this series has played to my strengths.”

Hoffman scored 27 points in Game 1 on 12-of-14 shooting from the field and 2-of-2 from three-point range. Although the Fever lost the game, they had found a third scoring option to counter Phoenix’s Big Three.

“She’s been vital; without her we wouldn’t be in this position,” said Douglas. “You have to have that third scorer, you have to have somebody step up on a consistent basis. You see Phoenix, they have Diana [Taurasi] and Cappie [Pondexter] and then they have Penny [Taylor]. So we definitely have thrived and been at our best when she’s at her best and it takes a lot of pressure of off Catch and myself when Ebony is playing the way she has been. She’s been playing just phenomenal basketball.”

After scoring 16 points in the Fever’s Game 2 win, Hoffman made her biggest impact on this series in the final minutes of Game 3.

With 6:20 to play in the fourth quarter, Hoffman committed her fifth foul against Taylor and instantly clutched her right shoulder. She immediately knew that she had dislocated her shoulder, which is something that she has done in the past due in part to being double-jointed.

“It’s never been out that long; that was the scary part,” she said. “It usually just goes out and in and I’ll be back in the game in the next 30 seconds. I’ve never had it out that long and had to push it in myself. It was scary, but I just had to get back out there, regardless of what it was, I wasn’t going to get out of that game.”

Hoffman, who also sprained her ankle in the first game of the series, returned to the game at the 3:40 mark and was at the center of the two biggest plays in the game’s final minute. With the Mercury up by one, Taurasi missed an open three-pointer from the corner with 1:15 to play that could have been the dagger for Phoenix. On the other end, Hoffman found herself in a similar situation that she saw in Detroit, with the ball being kicked out to her with the game on the line.

“We had the play where Bri [Briann January] was going to take whoever she was going against off the dribble, but they trapped her, my man left me and I just rolled up and was just ready to hit the shot, on my good leg and one good arm,” she said with a laugh.

Once again Hoffman knocked the shot down. After review it was determined to be a two-pointer as her foot was on the three-point line. Either way, it put the Fever ahead with 57 seconds to play.

After the teams traded misses, there was a jumpball between Catchings and Le’coe Willingham with four seconds left. Phoenix won the tip and called time out to set up a final play with 3.7 seconds to play.

While the play was designed to go to Taylor, she was unable to receive the pass and it ended up in the hands of Tangela Smith, who rose up from 18 feet for the potential game-winner. Once again Hoffman came through for the Fever as she partially blocked the shot to preserve the one-point victory and give the Fever a 2-1 series lead.

With the win the Fever now sit one win away from their first WNBA title thanks in large part to Hoffman’s resurgence.

“It’s perfect timing,” said Catchings. “It could not have happened at a better time than this right here in the Finals. I think every series she’s got more and more confident and right now she is playing her best basketball and we expect great things from her. We’ve always expected big things from her, but right now she’s really peaking.”