Under the Boards, Under the Radar
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MINNEAPOLIS, MINN. -- The 2012 WNBA Finals, like virtually all championship series, will likely be defined by the play of each team’s stars – hinging on every one of their makes.
But, what happens when one of those stars misses? What happens if a play meant for Tamika Catchings breaks down or Seimone Augustus can’t capitalize on a set play?
Enter Indiana’s Erlana Larkins and Minnesota’s Rebekkah Brunson.
These two gritty post players, with their low-maintenance approach, are making big impacts for their teams this postseason despite operating in the shadows of their team’s bonafide superstars.
Brunson’s counterpart, the 6-foot-1 Larkins, might have actually been the star of stars in Game 1, scoring 16 points on 8-for-12 shooting and grabbing 15 rebounds, second most in WNBA Finals history. Even so, Larkins does not necessarily view herself as an integral part of the offensive scheme.
“I’m just getting in where I fit in,” Larkins said. “(Tamika Catchings) is an Olympian – we have some play calls for her and play calls for Katie (Douglas), but if you’re just in the right place at the right time and you’re open, your teammates have no choice but to pass you the ball. I just try to move around and get open.”
In games that Larkins has started this season – all coming in the last month – the Fever are 7-1. In the playoffs, the North Carolina product is averaging 11.6 points and 10.9 rebounds in 31 minutes per game versus averaging 4.1 points and 4.4 rebounds in 16 minutes per game in the regular season.
“We’d considered changing the lineup [and adding Larkins)] in the second-half of the season, but we just loved having her come off the bench,” Fever coach Lin Dunn said. “Talk about energy, effort and intensity coming off the bench, she is a great sixth man. We just decided we needed more toughness and more rebounding to start the game. In the Atlanta series, they exploited us so much on the boards that I decided it was time to make that move and I did. It has certainly paid off for us.”
Regardless of that impressive resume of proven results, Brunson does not confuse herself with one of the focal points of this high-powered offense.
“She likes it that way – she doesn’t want me to run a play for her,” Minnesota coach Cheryl Reeve said with a laugh. “She is that kind of player. She’ll do her thing, she’ll go get what she is going to get. She is happy with the others doing their thing and she’ll fit in where she can.”
Larkins is no different. The Fever have embraced a blue-collar attitude this year and Larkins, who really worked her way into the lineup with sweat and dedication, is a perfect example of that
“[Larkins] is exactly the type of player that we have been looking for, what I call a warrior,” Dunn said. “She does the dirty work. She sets the hard screen. She goes and gets the rebound. She’s got three people hanging on her and she goes back up and puts it back up.”
Larkins’ motor was instrumental for the Fever gaining the emotional edge in Game 1 – including a key block on Brunson late in the fourth quarter – but that energizing role is one that Brunson has played many times for the Lynx.
“She’s what we call ‘the beast’,” Augustus said of Brunson. “She just has a knack for doing that extra – the hustle plays – and that’s what we need at times. Most of time she’s bringing that energy and that hustle we need.”
When Indiana and Minnesota square off in Game 2 of the WNBA Finals on Wednesday at 8 p.m. on ESPN, you can expect these two bigs – matched up against each other at times – to bring that same kind of effort whenever they are on the floor.
They may not lead their teams in scoring – although they may lead it in bruises – but rest assured that they will loom large in the outcome of the game. Even if they go relatively unnoticed.