SAN ANTONIO, Oct. 1, 2008 -- Experience proved big tonight, as the Shock's veteran stars, Katie Smith and recent pickup Taj McWilliams-Franklin, had huge games at both ends to lead Detroit to an opening-game 77-69 win on the road against the Silver Stars. Whether it was Smith hitting from outside, Taj doing it in the paint or Deanna Nolan hitting her patented jumpers, the Shock offense ran smoothly.
But it was on defense that Detroit really shined, swarming guard Becky Hammon and limiting her to just 13 points, well below her 2008 playoff average.
What made the difference in Game 1? We spoke with the experts after the game to get their take on what happened.
Nancy Lieberman, WNBA.com and ESPN analyst
Tonight the Shock got off to a great start psychologically, and I'm not sure if everyone saw this: Plenette Pierson came out early and was in uniform and was trying to warm up and take some shots. If you're San Antonio, you're preparing mentally for Plenette to be out there. Then, just before the game, Plenette doesn't come out in uniform. She comes out with her arm in a sling. If you're the Stars, you're like, "Wow, one of their best players isn't playing." And some times, that results in a little bit of a letdown.
When you're Detroit, though, you're playing harder for your injured teammate. So right off the bat, before the game even tipped off, these teams had different mentalities. Bill gave his team a big psychological edge from the get-go.
Then, it really came down to Detroit's defense on Becky Hammon. It was just superb. They were jumping the screens early not waiting and then fighting through them. They were beating her to spots almost like they knew where she was going and when she was going there. They were making her go in completely different directions than she was comfortable going. They did an unbelievable job of limiting her shots and touches.
To me, the key stat in the game is that San Antonio went 1-12 from three. You don't shoot 8 percent from three and expect to win this game. Detroit also had just eight turnovers. So they're not giving San Antonio the ball in a game when they're already shooting poorly. That means very few chances for the Silver Stars to score.
In the fourth quarter, though, the Stars did a much better job of manufacturing offense. Vickie Johnson handled the ball a lot more and they were using Becky a lot more as the screener which worked because they were way too predictable in the first half on the screen and roll.
The point is, if you see the Shock start to jump those screens, you have to start slipping the pick and heading right to the basket. Or you can reverse the ball to the high post just to get everybody to shift and then send Sophia to the basket. They just needed to give Detroit a different look, especially after they got so comfortable tracking Becky all over the court.
But this is a good learning experience. San Antonio's never been here before. They fought back and took it down to the last minute of the game. They're gonna learn a lot from watching film tomorrow. And they have to put this behind and move on. This is the one game in this series where they were off. Let it go and move on. Come back Friday, make some adjustments, play better defense in the paint, win Game 2 and put the pressure on Detroit to hold serve and win two at home.
We said at the top of the show that rebounding has been a problem for the Silver Stars and it was again tonight especially on the offensive glass and ESPECIALLY in a game where their shooting was off. But honestly, the problem isn't their lack of offensive rebounding. It's the Shock's success on the offensive boards! If San Antonio can't get an offensive close-out, they can't get down the floor, and then they get right back into the same half-court struggles they had for most of the game tonight.
Tina Thompson, Houston Comets star and guest analyst for NBA TV
Detroit really rode its veteran players tonight. Both Katie Smith and Taj McWilliams-Franklin were huge offensively for them.
But I think the key to tonight's game was defense. They made San Antonio as uncomfortable as they could possible make them. And that gave the Shock a lot of momentum and enabled them to build up a decent lead in the first half.
Of course, San Antonio, being a very good team, made a run. You knew they would. They wouldn't be here if they weren't capable of coming back.
But a defensive game like this definitely worked in the favor of the Shock. They're amazing: a veteran team that's battle-tested in just about every situation. They're able to rise to the occasion almost every time they need to.
It was really a great game to watch. And it was impressive that San Antonio fought back so hard. But you can't give a team like Detroit a big advantage. Yeah, they had home-court, yeah, they're in front of their home crowd in the first game of the Finals, but they got off to a rough start. And that's tough to give up home-court when you've worked so hard to get it.
And it's obviously frustrating for the Stars that Becky had such a tough time getting open for shots. I felt like the team wasn't being as offensively aggressive as they usually are, and that made it tough for Becky to get free.
And you could see she was getting frustrated. She was allowing the defenders to stay with her and track her. So if she's marked so closely, she'll have to keep trying to get her post players more involved, especially against the Shock frontcourt missing Plenette Pierson. She'll definitely have a better game on Friday. Then, Sophia and Ann can maybe get Braxton and Taj into foul trouble and force Bill to put a rookie in the post. And Sanni works very hard, but she doesn't bring the same kind of experience that the others do.
Can Detroit win Game 2 here in San Antonio also? Anything's possible. If they keep playing defense like they played tonight, I definitely wouldn't rule it out.
I still see this series as a toss-up. Both of these teams are very, very, very good and they both play really hard. It's really just a matter of which team is better able to impose its will. And tonight, that team was Detroit.
Holly Rowe, ESPN sideline reporter
It's a very clichéd statement, but I think that Taj took what the Silver Stars gave her tonight. And while they're double-teaming Deanna and focusing on Katie, the players they're really worried about hurting them, Taj sees that she's open. It takes a wily veteran like Taj to take advantage of that.
The other thing I thought was key was the total lack of second-chance points for San Antonio. That was a huge focus for the Shock. Every time in the huddle, Bill Laimbeer kept stressing, "No second-chance points!" The Shock really rebounded the ball well defensively and when the Stars aren't shooting well, they can't also get outrebounded as badly as they were.
The Shock were also able to stifle Becky pretty well defensively. They followed her all over the court. They've played her before, so they know basically what she does and what she's capable of.
But Becky made a great point to me during shoot-around today. She said that they change up who's defending her. They can start off with Deanna Nolan, who guards her with her speed and athleticism. That makes it hard for Becky to come off of screens. Then they'll switch Katie Smith onto her, which is tough because of Katie's physicality. So Becky said she feels like she constantly has to change tempos, so it isn't easy to get into a comfort zone.
In Game 2, San Antonio needs to switch things up a bit. Detroit doesn't have many weaknesses, but if they have one, it's a tendency to give up big leads. They lose focus at times. In their Game 3's earlier in the playoffs against Indiana and New York, they were up by 30 and 20 points before almost blowing those leads. So I feel like the Shock's focus in Game 2 will be a huge factor. They're capable of winning two straight here in San Antonio, but their focus will have to be there.
Carolyn Peck, WNBA.com and ESPN analyst
Experience was a major factor for Detroit tonight. Katie Smith is obviously anxious to get another championship. Phoenix taking the title away from them last year seems to be pretty fresh on her mind. Taj McWilliams-Franklin, too, is really appreciating the position that she's in the possibility of winning her first WNBA championship with the Shock. She's playing like she's going after it right now.
Offensively, for the Silver Stars, I'd take a page out of New York's book against the Shock. Spread the floor and look at some penetrate and pitch options. With the pressure defense that Detroit puts on you, make them guard you off the dribble. Give yourself some opportunities to get to the free throw line.
Detroit was really able to stifle Becky Hammon on the perimeter. San Antonio kept trying to get her off on-ball screens. But once they started using her as a screener, it opened things up more for Sophia Young and some other options inside.
Another thing I noticed was that as great a defensive player as Erin Buescher is, it's a tough matchup for her to try and guard Deanna Nolan. I might instead use some quickness like Sophia Young to try and take Tweety out of her game. I'd also work a little bit harder to get over on-ball screens instead of relying on so much help. And if San Antonio has a Helen Darling, for example, who's capable of really buckling down defensively, that would definitely help them. Defensively, those are things that the Stars need to look at heading toward Game 2.