Vickie Johnson drives to the hoop during Game 3 of San Antonio's first-round series against Sacramento.
D. Clarke Evans/NBAE/Getty Images
With the final seconds of regulation ticking down in the team's do-or-die Game 3 matchup with Sacramento on Monday, Johnson received a pass from a driving Hammon on the weak side before laying in undoutedly the most important basket in San Antonio's WNBA history. The score gave the Silver Stars a thrilling, 80-78 victory over the Monarchs and their first ever playoff series win.
But those who have followed San Antonio's '07 playoff run know that Johnson's contributions go beyond the series-winning basket. The veteran posted 10 points and six rebounds in the opener against Sacramento before notching team-highs of eight assists and nine rebounds in Game 2 and collecting 14 points and seven assists in the decider. Such balanced production out of VJ has helped make San Antonio a real threat to represent the West in the 2007 WNBA Finals.
WNBA.com's Mark Bodenrader talked with Johnson about her dramatic hoop, being reunited with Hammon in the Alamo City and the upcoming Western Conference Finals with Phoenix.
Q: First off, can you take us through your game-winner?
JOHNSON: “The plan was for me to initiate the play with 12 seconds to go and to give us the last shot. I was supposed to give it to Becky ball side, then get a quick pick and roll and create from there. When I gave her the ball and went through they kind of just left me. And then Becky found me and I just finished it.”
Q: What's it like not only winning a game, but winning a series, and San Antonio's first at that?
JOHNSON: “It’s great. The fans and the organization deserve this. And we deserve it as players. We’ve worked so hard. We’ve had a lot of injuries and stuff like that. But we just stuck together, believed in each other, continued to play well and fought through everything. So we deserved that win last night. Even though we were up 20 Sacramento did a great job coming back, really challenging us. And we did a great job of getting the lead back, making some key stops and making some big baskets.”
Q: Have you hit any other game-winners in your basketball career and where does this one rank?
JOHNSON: “I don’t really know about that because I’ve played so many games in my career. But this has to be one of the top shots of my career, and also one of the top wins of my career. When I played in New York I played with a lot of vets, and we were supposed to win. But here with the young players, Ruth (Riley) coming over taking criticism for her play, Becky coming over from New York, then Erin (Buescher) getting hurt and me at 35 years old (we weren’t expected to succeed). With the young players respecting the vets and really listening to us and the coaching staff we’re able to get it done together. We don’t let anyone or anything get between us. That’s the key.”
Q: You and Becky connected on that final play, which is fitting because you guys played together for many years in New York before reuniting in San Antonio. So what's it like playing with Becky again?
JOHNSON: “It’s great because I can look to her on the court – I didn’t really have thjat connection with anyone last year. I tried to get that connection with Sophia Young last year, but this year with Becky, playing seven-to-eight years together makes us close not only on the court but off the court as well. We can just give each other the eye and get it done.”
Q: Since you are one of the most experienced players on the Silver Stars have you been dishing our advice to your more inexperienced teammates during the playoffs? If so, what have you been telling them?
JOHNSON: “Oh yeah. I just tell them, ‘If you think the intensity has been high during the regular season, it jumps up 10 more levels in the playoffs. What you thought were fouls before, won’t be fouls. It’s going to be a lot more physical, so you have to be mentally tough to do what you want to do out there. You don’t want to let them take your game away from you, but you have to play the team aspect at the same time.’ That’s the main thing I tell them, just to stay focused and have fun. I also say, ‘Y’all have no pressure. We have the pressure.’”
Q: In the past you were required to put up points but it seems you're contributing more in other areas, like rebounds and assists, because San Antonio has plenty of scorers. Can you talk about how your game has evolved?
JOHNSON: “The thing is we have so many players that can shoot the ball. I just take whatever the defense gives me. I see what my team needs from me in a game. If it’s assists, then it’s assists. If it’s rebounding, then it’s rebounding. If it’s to score a little bit, then I’ll score a little bit too. I don’t come into a game thinking I need to score 15 points or take 15 shots. I just want to win.”
Q: Now how do guys adjust going from playing a defensive-minded team like Sacramento to a run-and-gun team like Phoenix?
JOHNSON: “We’ve got to keep the defensive mindset and make them guard us. We’ve got to guard them, but they’ve also got to guard us.”
Q: Overall, how do you think you guys match up with Phoenix?
JOHNSON: “It’s going to be a great matchup. It’s going to be good. I can’t wait. The main thing is we have to come out and play our style, and to get Phoenix to play our style and not the other way around.”
Q: Looking back on the Monarchs series, what do you guys need to improve upon the most heading into this next round?
JOHNSON: “Just staying focused when we’re up 15, 20, and not relaxing and letting teams come back and giving them an opportunity to win, because Sacramento had an opportunity to win in Game 3 of the last series.”