Smith delivering MVP-caliber performance

Shock 2-0… Stars KO’d?


San Antonio -- Katie Smith has won Olympic gold; she’s been to the pinnacle of professional basketball. She is one of the most decorated female basketball players in the world. But she’s never been WNBA Finals MVP.

Just give her a couple of days.

Smith scored 22 points and delivered a last-minute dagger in the Silver Stars’ championship hopes, headlining Detroit’s 69-61 Game 2 victory at the AT&T Center. With a stunning pair of road wins at San Antonio – which had owned the East at home this season – the Shock are cruising toward their third WNBA championship in six years.

“This is two games in a row where I actually had to compliment her on over and above the call of duty. She played phenomenal,” said head coach Bill Laimbeer, who added he has such high expectations for Smith he doesn’t like to praise her in front of the team. “She wanted the basketball – once again in two games in a row, her will to win the game is what carried us.”

Smith finished off the Silver Stars Friday with a difficult fade-away jumper with 51.9 seconds remaining. That pushed Detroit’s five-point margin to seven, sending the Silver Stars into fouling mode and more than 16,000 Silver Stars fans for the exits.

Smith also had a team-high six assists and committed no fouls. Coming off a 25-point performance in Game 1, the tireless 34-year-old has played every minute of the series – and each one of them better than anyone else. She’s a perimeter player shooting like she’s in the post – making 17 of 33 field goals (51.5 percent) in the Finals. “You try to stay aggressive throughout the ball game,” Smith said, “and I feel good obviously with playing and shooting the basketball.”

The Shock executed flawlessly in the first quarter, building a 19-2 lead by making nine of their first 10 field goals, a start that “was surprising even to me,” Laimbeer said. “We wanted to make sure we weren’t down. We didn’t want to be on the short end of that one.”

Deanna Nolan, named to the All-WNBA Second Team Friday, led Detroit with eight points in the first quarter, but then facilitated the Shock attack, scoring just four more points the rest of the way. She had five assists and a team-high seven rebounds. “Once again, she realizes that (San Antonio’s) focal point is on her and she didn’t force anything,” Laimbeer said of the 2006 Finals MVP. “I’d like to see her shoot more but she played a solid game.”

A sloppy second quarter – for a portion of which Detroit had eight turnovers and shot 0-for-4 – led to a seven-point game at halftime. Center Ruth Riley’s only field goal of the series gave the Silver Stars their first lead, 43-42, in the third quarter. Those were the only points from San Antonio bench, which went three deep. Laimbeer played five reserves, with Alexis Hornbuckle chipping in eight points.

Naturally, Smith drained a tough jumper off an inbounds play to regain the lead and drew a foul in the process. She missed the free throw. It was about the only thing in San Antonio that didn’t go her way. “Here as a basketball player, I want to win,” she said. “Bottom line, this is why I play the game, because you want to find a way to win whether it’s pickup, whether it’s here (in the finals).”

Leading 48-45 entering the fourth, Detroit went to the same formula that worked in Game 1. Smith, Taj McWilliams-Franklin and Kara Braxton all came up with big plays.

Braxton was 3-for-3 in the fourth – six of her 12 points – and grabbed three of her four rebounds in the quarter. “I’m proud of Kara Braxton,” Laimbeer said. “Kara Braxton gets beat on by me especially. I beat the crap out of her all the time and the media saying how she’s inconsistent. But late in the game, she stood up and her teammates appreciate that.”

Laimbeer saved her for the fourth, playing her sparingly after she picked up two fouls in the first quarter. “Those fouls really killed me,” Braxton said. “It just made me want to get out there that much more and play hard when I got out there.”

McWilliams-Franklin, coming off 24 points in Game 1, didn’t have the same touch, finishing 4-of-10, but two of those field goals came in the fourth. She also was largely responsibly for limiting Silver Stars forward Sophia Young to 11 points on 5-of-18 shooting. The All-WNBA First Team selection had 21 points in Game 1.

McWilliams-Franklin’s final points gave the Shock a commanding 12-point lead with less than three minutes to play. But San Antonio briefly rallied as Becky Hammon hit three triples and Vickie Johnson added a fourth to make it a 66-61 game, setting up Smith’s final clutch basket of the night.

“We didn’t panic,” Smith said. “When they got close, all we needed was a bucket to break their momentum. And then we got that, and then we were able to put another little run together to give us a little cushion toward the end.”

From a series perspective, the Shock have more than a cushion – they have the entire couch, plus throw pillows. They return from San Antonio with two chances to clinch the series on their floor. Game 3 is Sunday at the Eastern Michigan University Convocation Center.

“It’s not over. We haven’t done anything yet,” Smith said. “So we’re excited about going home.”