San Antonio's Becky Hammon is swarmed by Detroit defenders during Game 3 of the WNBA Finals.
D. Lippitt/Einstein/NBAE/Getty Images
DETROIT, October 5, 2008 -- Even when the San Antonio Silver Stars got off to a fast start in Game 3, there were ominous signs that it was going to be another disappointing night and thus the end of their season.
For one thing, while misfiring on a lot of shots, Detroit was getting too many second-chance opportunities.
“I remember they got some offensive boards and that really hurt us,” said San Antonio center Ann Wauters.
The Shock collected five offensive rebounds in the first quarter and five more in the second to help Detroit remain in the game. They would go on to collect 20 for the game. The Stars had just 27 total rebounds.
More important though, Becky Hammon, the player brought in last year as franchise savior, was once again virtually a non-factor thanks to the relentless defense of Deanna Nolan and Co. The Silver Stars’ point guard got off just one shot in the opening quarter, which she missed, and three for the entire first half, making only a three-point attempt. Her two misses were good looks close to the basket which Becky seemed to hesitate on, perhaps conditioned to anticipate the wrath of Detroit’s swarming defense.
“They double- and sometimes triple-teamed me a lot, so there’s only so much you can do really,” said Hammon. “Anytime I went in there I was seeing blue jerseys and white jerseys everywhere.”
But a better indicator that Hammon was off her game and the Shock were in her head might have occurred at the free throw line, where she missed two on separate trips early in the game. During the regular season, Hammon led the league in free throw shooting with a clip of 93.7 percent, missing only 11 in total.
Hammon would not reach the free throw line or make another field goal in the second half. She finished a dismal 1-of-10 from the field, shot 2-of-4 from the charity stripe, dished out only three assists and committed a team-high four turnovers.
Here it was, Game 3, and the Silver Stars were still struggling to get Hammon into a groove. Without her making a significant impact, San Antonio didn’t stand a chance of extending the series. Almost inevitably, San Antonio fell victim to a 76-60 Game 3 loss and a three-game Finals sweep.
“They tested us inside and out,” said San Antonio head coach Dan Hughes about the 2008 WNBA champion Detroit Shock. “They tested us offensively and defensively. So my hat's off to them.
“I think Detroit deserves a lot of credit for playing the brand of basketball that we saw and had to deal with.”
Detroit was simply the better team at this point in the season and that was becoming clearer each game. The Shock team San Antonio faced in the Finals was nothing like the one it had swept during the regular season.
“They played better than us. That’s all there is to it,” said Hammon. “They are playing great right now. Taj (McWilliams-Franklin) completely changes the dynamics of that team. So kudos to Bill (Laimbeer) and that trade.”
The trade to which Hammon is referring to, of course, is the one in which Detroit acquired McWilliams-Franklin from Washington in July in reaction to Cheryl Ford going down with a season-ending injury. If Ford doesn’t go down, the Shock likely don’t inquire about McWilliams-Franklin with the Mystics and maybe they aren’t celebrating title No. 3 right now.
The Silver Stars had their own voids to fill, but due to some unfortunate timing, executing a deal to shore up their roster wasn’t an option. When Helen Darling and Edwige Lawson-Wade both suffered injuries in the Sparks series, it prevented San Antonio from playing the game it had become accustomed to. Darling did make a valiant return to action on Sunday, playing just over 11 minutes and scoring four points. However, it was clear she wasn’t 100 percent.
“Of course, if our team would have been completely healthy, it would have been another story, I'm sure of that,” said Wauters. “But I guess for Detroit, you can also point that out. I'm sure they had some injuries here and there.”
Besides Darling and Lawson-Wade, the Stars also played without sharpshooter Shanna Crossley, who missed the entire season after blowing out her ACL in the preseason. Not having the three-point threat proved costly in the Finals. The Stars shot just 21 percent from beyond the arc for the entire series and as a result they were never able to keep Detroit’s defense honest.
With the core of Hammon, Sophia Young and Wauters (should she return) set in place, the Stars figure to be a top contender in the West once again next season and beyond. Sure, they could use some depth and youth, but with Crossley expected to return next year at full strength, that should make an already potent lineup that much more dangerous.
“If we can just stay healthy and get Shanna Crossley back that would help tremendously,” said Hammon. ”That’s just a pure shooter and I think she would help us.”
But a trip back to the Finals next year is hardly guaranteed and the Silver Stars know that. With each year teams are improving by leaps and bounds, especially out West. San Antonio itself went from not making the postseason to the Finals in a span of two seasons.
Perennial contenders like Seattle and Sacramento will be back. The 2007 WNBA champion Phoenix Mercury, who are too talented to endure a repeat of their 2008 season, can’t be overlooked. And Los Angeles, the team San Antonio narrowly escaped in the Western Conference Finals, is a threat to start a dynasty of its own by virtue of having Candace Parker -- a 22-year-old Most Valuable Player winner.
That’s why a disciplined team like San Antonio is always looking to get better.
“For me personally I’m always trying to work on my game,” said Young. “There’s a lot of stuff that I need to add to my repertoire.
“As a team, we need to do a good job of rebounding next year. With our off-season work and playing overseas we’ll be able to be more physical and be stronger.”
For now, the Silver Stars can take a moment to look back at all they accomplished in 2008. But that bad taste in their mouths caused by a dismal showing in the 2008 WNBA Finals will linger until they get back in this position and seize the opportunity.