Yolanda Griffith, left, and the Monarchs must contend with Sophia Young, right, and an emerging San Antonio squad in Round 1.
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While her numbers dipped during the 2007 regular season, the 37-year-old Griffith remained the anchor of the Monarchs' trademark stingy defense despite playing on an ailing right knee which she recently hyperextended in a late-season game against Houston. Entering this year's playoffs, her imposing presence in the paint is a big reason why some consider the Monarchs a viable threat to win their second WNBA title in three years.
WNBA.com's Mark Bodenrader talked with Griffith about her health, the matchup with the Silver Stars and what she expects out of the Monarchs' 2007 postseason run.
Q: First off, how is the knee feeling entering the playoffs?
GRIFFITH: “I feel good. I thought it was going to keep me out of the last couple of games, but I was able to come back. This is the playoffs. You really don’t have the time to recover because you’ve got to stay sharp and get ready for the playoffs. Other than that I feel pretty good.”
Q: Your team has had a bunch of injuries during the season. Is health a real concern for you guys entering the first round?
GRIFFITH: “No. We know that injuries occur. The way we built our team we made sure we were two-deep in each position. There’s no time to recover from your injuries. You have to do the best that you can. We’re going to make sure we have each other’s back. I’m pretty sure there are a lot of teams going into the playoffs with injuries. We don’t have the type of injuries that are going to keep us out. We’re going to go at it full strength with all our players.”
Q: The matchup seems to be a battle of styles, with SA favoring an uptempo game and you guys using more of a defensive-minded approach. How do you think you guys match up with San Antonio?
GRIFFITH: “We have similar players. They have Becky Hammon, who’s a shooter. We’ve got Kara (Lawson). They have Shanna Crossley, who’s a shooter. We have Nicole. We match up well. They have Sophia (Young), who’s a 3-4 and slasher. We have Rebekkah on her and she’s a tough rebounder and strong in the low post. We’ve got to keep the ball out of Ruth’s (Riley) hands when she picks and pops. We have our work cut out for us as far as all the weapons they have on the offensive end. But we feel we have a great team of the defensive end and we also have great inside and outside games. The team that makes less mistakes is the team that’s going to win. You can’t have too many turnovers against a team that’s offensive-minded. We’ve got to control the boards like we’ve been doing. We split with them 2-2 – they got two at home and we got two in our place – and all the games have been close. Going into the playoffs I feel we have a lot of experience. Our defense is what we’re going to need to take them out of their comfort zone.”
Q: Is there a mental edge playing a team that is in the playoffs for the first time, especially since you guys have a lot of playoff experience?
GRIFFITH: “We have the experience, but they also have veterans that have playoff experience. We can’t go in there thinking that our experience is better than their’s. They’re in the playoffs as the second seed. They’re feeling comfortable because, yes, they play the first game on the road, but the next two are at home. We just have to go out there and respect every player that San Antonio puts out on the court and not think that we’re better. Just go out there and give everything you can give because on any given night anybody can have an outstanding game. And on any given night anybody can have the worst game in the playoffs. It’s very important that we stick to our gameplan, go in there, apply the defensive strategies that our coaches have given us, and battle. You play 34 games in the regular season. Right now, it’s the playoffs and everybody is 0-0. You either win two and stay in, or lose two and you’re out.”
Q: What are your thoughts about playing at home for the first game as the lower seed? Does that give you an edge to start the series?
GRIFFITH: “No. It’s more pressure. You need that first game. You have to have that first game because after that you have two games on the road. So that first game in any playoff series is a must-win for all of the teams.”
Q: Sophia Young has become a superstar in this league. How do you plan to lessen her impact down low in this series?
GRIFFITH: “Our defensive pressure hasn’t been like it needs to be, but that’s the most important thing that we’ve been stressing: make it harder for her. When she catches it, make her make a decision and go from there. We’re not saying we’re going to completely stop her, but she’s not the only player that’s great on the San Antonio team. We know one player is not going to beat us. They need their whole team. And we need our whole team to play our defense and also to run our offense like we need to. If we execute offensively and stay strong on the defensive end, we’ll be OK.”
Q: How is this year's Monarchs team similar to last year's team that advanced all the way to the WNBA Finals, or how is it different?
GRIFFITH: “It’s different because we had DeMya (Walker) going into the playoffs. This year we don’t have DeMya. This year we have young players that are in their second, third year in the league. We have new players that aren’t so familiar with our defense, but at times we’ve been one of the best teams when it comes to our defense. So we’re going to use our defense to get us to back to where we’ve been the last two years and that’s in the Finals.”
Q: What's the mood like on the team? Is there a sense of unfinished business from last year because you guys lost in the Finals?
GRIFFITH: “You can say that we have unfinished business, but like I just said, this is not the same team. We have a different team and we have to go in there with a lot of confidence knowing that we can beat this team.”
Q: You're entering your seventh playoffs. At this point do they start to feel the same or does each trip to the postseason have a special significance?
GRIFFITH: “Hmm, I’ll say they’re not the same because once you get to the Finals, you want to get there every year. Each year we’ve always had to face a difficult task. We could never get past L.A. We finally did that. We could never get past Houston. We finally did that. And now we’re playing against a team that’s young and likes to run up and down the court where we’re basically in a halfcourt offense. Things have changed, but the urgency is still there. You don’t want to lose the first game. You don’t want to go home early. So the urgency is there. It’s like do-or-die. You want to win, you want to move on, you want to get back to the championship. So ever year you get hungrier and hungrier and you have to find that focus. You can’t have distractions. Right now it’s business. It’s everything we’ve been preparing for from the beginning of the season to where we are now. Everybody has their homework. It’s not 'Oh, we have captains and we have the experience…' No. Everyone must come to play in order for us to be successful.”