WNBA Finals: Thursday
Pierson to play?
Detroit’s win raises a question for head coach Bill Laimbeer regarding the return of injured forward Plenette Pierson. Be content with a split on the road and bring her back rested for Game 3, or go bring all your weapons to bear in Game 2 and go for the knockout punch?
“You try to win every game you play,” he said. “I’m unclear whether I’d like to save her or not. Depends on the game-time decision, whether she’s going to be available. Then it depends on the flow of the game (and) if I think she can be effective.”
Pierson, her right arm still in a sling after dislocating her shoulder two weeks ago, could use two more days of rest before Sunday’s Game 3 at the EMU Convocation Center.
As eager as Pierson is to play Friday, Detroit’s first home game of the series, Game 3, will prove pivotal and put more value on Pierson’s availability. The Game 1 victory means Detroit will be trying to deliver a championship-clinching performance, or at worst regain the WNBA Finals lead from a 1-1 tie.
The truly worst-case scenario would be for the Silver Stars to win Game 2 with Pierson logging significant playing time. In the conference finals Pierson played 24 minutes in Game 2. She tried to play the next day in Game 3 but managed only six minutes. She was still too sore two days later to play in Finals opener Wednesday.
“I didn’t want to get out there and hurt my team more than I could help my team,” Pierson said. “I felt it was better for me just to make the decision to sit this one out and get another day of rest.”
If it takes her three to four days to come back from playing in Game 2, Pierson’s series potentially could be over, as games 3 and 4 are back-to-back, Sunday and Monday.
A likely compromise would be for Pierson to dress, but let Laimbeer see how Game 2 unfolds. Making an in-game decision wouldn’t affect Pierson, who usually comes off the bench, or the starters.
“That is also a bonus, that she is a player to bring off the bench, so I can see how the game is flowing,” he said. “I can look at our foul trouble, I can look at how individuals are playing and make a decision that way.”
Hornbuckle hones in
Five Shock players blocked a shot in the first half of Game 1, setting a Finals record with six before halftime. The player with two blocks wasn’t 6-foot-6 Kara Braxton or 6-foot-5 Kelly Schumacher, who each had one.
It was 5-foot-11 Alexis Hornbuckle, who lived up to role Laimbeer envisioned when he drafted her fourth overall in April: a physically imposing guard that can be disruptive force on the perimeter.
“Hornbuckle scored two points, but her defense and her rebounding, that’s why we got her and why we drafted her,” said Laimbeer, who played her 24 minutes. “Her presence on the court was phenomenal, to be a rookie and to play that kind of minutes.”
Hornbuckle shot only 1-for-6, but she contributed a team-high five assists to go with a superb defensive outing, especially at times against 5-foot-6 Becky Hammon. She forced the All-Star point guard to step out of bounds with 1:03 left in the game, a critical turnover after Detroit regained a 73-69 lead.
“I was obviously nervous before the game, but once the ball got thrown up and got it going it was like another basketball game,” Hornbuckle said. “I just tried to calm my nerves and wait for my opportunity to get in.”
Playing in crunch time is nothing new for Hornbuckle, a product of a Tennessee program that won back-to-back NCAA championships her final seasons. Her poise showed. In addition to three steals and two blocks, Hornbuckle committed only one turnover and no fouls.
Hammon unbowed by Detroit D
The Shock’s reputation for physical defense is well deserved, but they weren’t the first ones in these playoffs to body up Hammon. The diminutive point guard had seen similar attacks from Los Angeles and Sacramento in the first two rounds.
“This has been typically in each of the series, people will attempt to impede her or hold her a little bit,” Silver Stars coach Dan Hughes said. “Fouling is a pretty good strategy with Becky.”
Deanna Nolan shadowed Hammon much of the night with the help of fellow all-league defender Katie Smith and Hornbuckle. She turned in her second-lowest scoring game of the playoffs, 13 points, and a game-high five turnovers. She did not have a 3-pointer for only the second time this postseason.
“I think Becky might have hard times with long, athletic defenders. People who can actually keep up with her, especially when she comes off that screen,” Nolan said. “She thinks she’s lost them but we’re still coming.”
Hammon wasn’t as bothered by getting bumped around as her team’s overall execution. “No, I mean there’s a physical nature in all of it. That’s generally how people try to defend me. It’s not anything I haven’t gone against before,” she said.
“But I think our counter moves have to be a little bit better, a little bit more decisive, so when they do want to stick two people on me, we score out of that 4-on-3 situation.
Hammon is like Nolan offensively, supremely capable of carrying her team, as she did to reach this series by scoring 35 points – including San Antonio’s last seven – in a four-point win over the Sparks in Game 3 of the West finals. But she also defers to teammates, almost to a fault. As Detroit built its double-digit lead, Hammon entered the fourth quarter having shot just five times, making one. Nine of her 13 points came in the fourth.
Hammon said being more aggressive in Game 2 wouldn’t necessarily mean shooting more before halftime.
“I’m going to pick and choose my spots. Obviously try to create space. But I also want to be an enabler for my teammates,” she said. “I think we have a good enough team, that if you give too much attention to me too often, they’re going to make you pay. “
The Shock locked down another league superstar in the ’07 Finals opener, holding Diana Taurasi – a two-time league scoring leader – to 10 points on 3-of-8 shooting.
Taurasi responded with 30 points in Game 2 – the worst playoff loss in Shock history.