Just like the players, coaches and fans, Hall of Famer and ESPN
analyst Nancy Lieberman is pumped for the 2004 WNBA Finals. After holding down
the fort in the studio during the pre-game, halftime and postgame shows for
ESPN throughout the playoffs, Lieberman will finally get to see some
live action at the Mohegan Sun and Key Arenas. After outlining the keys to the
first round and Conference
Finals, here is how she sees the Finals playing out.
Like any series, the 2004 WNBA Finals will be won and lost in the matchups
and each team's ability to make adjustments in response to the other.
Defense of the Sun
Just like the Western Conference Finals, you can expect to see both the Storm
and the Sun push the ball and run this series. The Sun's objective is to rebound,
to run and put Seattle on their heels defensively. Connecticut scores through
its transition game and the half court, so in order for Seattle to be successful,
they have to take away one of those weapons. Seattle may not the best one-on-one
defensive team, but they play tremendous team defense within the half-court
set. Anne Donovan knows that her team must get on the offensive glass and get
back in transition defense. She is a tremendous X-and-O's coach, but she also
has players that can execute. They are savvy, smart, and while they may not
be as athletic as the Monarchs, don't be fooled. They are very athletic and
have tremendous basketball acumen.
Defense of the Storm...
| Lauren Jackson
In order for Connecticut to stop Seattle, Coach Thibault is going to have to
constantly change up his defensive schemes. Sacramento never adjested to Seattle's
strengths, became predictable and lost as a result. The Storm were able to move
the ball side-to-side thanks to their great passers. They also outrebounded
the Monarchs, 28-21, and only gave up two offensive rebounds in the first half,
thus limiting Sacramento's ability to get out and run or get second-chance shots.
Connecticut can potentially match up with Seattle at every position, but they
cannot match up with Lauren
Jackson. They do not have the personnel to stop her and will have to defend
her by committee. Taj
McWilliams-Franklin is playing the best basketball of her career, but has
a daunting challenge ahead of her. I'm sure Thibault will throw a lot of different
looks at her. He is a fabulous X-and-O's coach as well and he will try and keep
the ball out of her hands, perhaps by trapping her more. He will never play
her the same way twice and give her comfortability. They'll play behind her,
in front of her, they'll put pressure on the passer, they'll run people at her
and they will rotate behind her.
The Sun will also try and make Jackson think, but that is the part of her game
that has evolved the most. She has physically and mentally gone to another level.
She is no longer a young kid that we can talk about being great one day. She
is great, and I think she is the best.
Jackson has some of the best hands I have ever seen. You can throw anything
at her. I feel safe to say that if I had to rank people's ability to catch a
ball, Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Randy Moss is number one, Eagles receiver
Terrell Owens is number two and Lauren Jackson is third on that list. She continues
to prove that she can catch the ball in traffic, she catches bounce passes,
she can catch balls thrown away from her, she can go up and get them. She has
also worked so hard on her footwork and her first step is so good as a result.
She is just so accomplished.
Nothing against Lisa Leslie
or Yolanda Griffith (and
I say this both in truth and in jest), but the best posts in the west are Lauren
Jackson and Anne Donovan. Lauren is versatile and Annie is a Hall of Famer.
That's a pretty cool combination, because Lisa and Yolanda can't stop Anne from
giving Lauren knowledge. How can you defend that?
Guards: Whalen vs. Bird
| Lindsay Whalen
I can't wait for the Lindsay
is going to be so exciting to watch. Lindsay Whalen is phenomenal in the open
court. When she attacks, the defense is on its heels and has to retreat. Then
she gets past the defense and cuts you up like a surgeon. As for Bird, first
off, let me say that I am entering her in the "Tough Guy" Competition on PayPerView.
She has the name, she has the game, but now she has shown another side of what
she is all about. People know the "I'm not as innocent as you think I am" side,
but she proved to us that she is "a lot tougher than you think I am." She is
a New York girl, and New Yorkers fear nothing. I knew she was good, but she
went up about ten pegs in my pecking order of how to play this game.
In the last series, the Monarchs did not deviate from their defense or make
the necessary adjustments and allowed the screen-roll with Bird and Jackson
to beat them. The defender guarding Jackson is supposed to make sure that Bird
or another guard doesn't turn it up and go down the middle of the lane. If that
happens, a weak-side defender comes in and then there is an open shooter in
the corner. But you're going to have to give up something. Would you rather
give up a shot to the MVP or Betty
Lennox or Sheri Sam? Pick
You can't let a team with a savvy passer and a great shooter get open looks.
With time to shoot, these players are like kids in a candy shop. Jackson was
the best 3-point shooter in the WNBA this year, and in Game 3 against Sacramento,
she went 6-7 from beyond the arc because she was wide open.
Counts for Something
As far as actual WNBA Finals experience goes, nobody in this series has ever
been here before. But honestly, they have been in pressure games before. There
are players in both lockerrooms that know how to tell stories. Anne Donovan
can tell them what it was like playing for an NCAA Championship and a gold medal
and Sue Bird knows what championship basketball is all about. For Connecticut,
Thibault has won championships in the CBA and with the Lakers and players like
Asjha Jones won championships
in college. I just don't see a reason for anyone to be nervous or scared. This
is just another game where two heavyweights will come out and try to take away
each other's strengths. It will come down to executing and who gets it done.
Can Be Only One
And as for the last question... predictions...
I don't know. The cream will rise to the top and I am as anxious as anybody
to see how this thing shakes out. I think it will go three games and this could
be where the home court advantage bears fruit as it did in the last game for
Send Nancy a question or comment