EPSN Analyst and Hoops Legend Breaks Down Game 2 of the Finals

Ask Nancy: Sept. 8, 2007

Basketball Hall-of-Famer and ESPN analyst Nancy Lieberman answers your questions and e-mails throughout the year. Click here to submit a question of your own.

With Game 2 of the WNBA Finals this afternoon, we thought it apropos for Nancy to answer several burning questions heading into today's game. So without further ado...


Can Detroit continue to dominate in the post like they did in Game 1?

The Shock gave themselves a bit of a cushion here in front of the Detroit fans with their great rebounding, defense and timely shooting in Game 1. But even more so, they did it all without Cheryl Ford. I almost feel sorry for Kara Braxton now, because she has set the bar so high for herself the rest of this series and into next year. Her Game 1 performance is what we're going to expect from her from now on. You showed you can do it, and now you have to continue to deliver.

Getting 55 points and 29 rebounds out of your post position is simply unbelievable, especially with Cheryl Ford in street clothes. Yes, I think they can keep up their dominance down low. That's who the Shock are. They're not going to change who they are just because they're in the Finals.

Can the Shock continue to frustrate Diana Taurasi and limit her offensive output?

Game 1 was a tough one for Taurasi. She's not used to sitting on the bench for 15 minutes, then coming back in to play. She's used to playing 35 minutes a game and staying in the flow.

What can Detroit do to contain her offense? Well, it helps when she's not on the floor. And even when she is, Katie Smith has done a good job of stifling her so far. Katie has done a great job of mirroring Diana's physicality and emotion on the floor. All you can do is continue to contest shots. As long as Diana's not going around Katie and Katie forces Diana to keep shooting over her, Bill Laimbeer will be very happy.

Katie Smith is such a cagey veteran. She had 13 points in the last five minutes of the game. And she has done things like that her whole career. Even if she gets off to a rough start in a game, you know she'll shine when she needs to… when her team really needs her.

Phoenix is going to shoot… they'll try to get up 80-85 shots a game. They just need to hit more.

Deanna Nolan had a very quiet Game 1, scoring just 11 points. Does she need to play a bigger role for the Shock to be successful today in Game 2?

The rest will help Deanna. After a tough series against Indiana, her shots were a little bit short in Game 1. But that's the beauty of "team." Deanna carried the Shock on her back for many a game during this postseason, and other players step up for her on a night when she's not at her most spectacular best. No, she didn't score like she did against Indy, but she played solid defense like she always does and hit a couple of timely baskets.

Will Cheryl Ford play in Game 2, and if so, how does that impact their frontcourt?

We all thought that if Cheryl didn't play, the Shock would be in trouble. But we were wrong. Plenette Pierson is playing the best basketball of her career right now. She's a tough check at the four. But you're never exactly sure what you're going to get out of Feenstra or Braxton. What they brought in Game 1 was pretty darned good. Will they do it again in Game 2? We don't know.

Will Cheryl play? We'll know more later today, but we already know all is not lost for the Shock if she can't.

What does Phoenix have to change defensively to combat Detroit's inside presence?

They have to change the areas on the floor that they defend. I don't think they'll go away from their rover defense, but the Mercury have to meet the Shock posts higher in the lane and stop them before they get to their sweet spots down on the block. They're still rebounding out of a zone, so that's always going to be tougher because you're boxing out an area, not a person. They can't continue to get pushed underneath the basket on the offensive boards, which means that they have to start their box-outs a little higher.

If they can play 10 percent harder and 10 percent smarter, they can overcome this flaw. I've known Paul Westhead since I played for him in 1980, and he's not going to change. He's not going to make you watch a ton of film. He's just going to ask you to play a little bit harder and a little bit smarter... and to knock down a few more shots. But they'll stick with what got them here.

Can Diana Taurasi walk the fine line between playing her normal passionate and aggressive game and getting into foul trouble like she did in Game 1? Will she have to let up on the defensive end? And can she get back to lighting up the scoreboard in the manner to which we're accustomed?

The fouls were obviously the key to her problems in Game 1, but she'll bounce back. There are some terrific players in this league. There are a couple of superstars. But there are very few icons. Diana is an icon. If you look at the greatest players in the history of basketball -- Bird, Magic, Isiah, Cheryl Miller or Cynthia Cooper, Lisa Leslie and Lauren Jackson -- the playoffs are where they cement their legacies and their positions in the history of the game. She's close to doing it, and she's only four years into her pro career.

Diana mentioned to me that being in the playoffs was a new thing for her and her teammates. They need to get their feet wet. Detroit understands the excitement, the pace and the feeling of being in the postseason. They've been here before. But Diana had never been here.

With a Finals tilt under their belts now, will the Mercury be in a better position emotionally to play their game today?

I would think so. Let's face it, even big-time players can get really excited in these situations. They can hyperventilate, they can get nervous. And players look to their team's superstars for that inspiration and that confidence, but it doesn't help when they're too nervous to play their game. The Mercury now realize that they just have to go out there and keep it simple. Yes, it's against a really good opponent, but they have to play their game their way and do their best.

After losing Game 1 to the defending champs, a team known for its physicality and swagger and toughness, how important is it for Phoenix's mindswt to get a win on the road before heading home for Game 3?

The Mercury's goal in coming to Detroit was to get one game. It doesn't matter if it's Game 1 or Game 2. And they still have a chance to take away that home-court advantage. I would say that the pressure is really on Detroit to hold serve on their home court. But then again, if the Shock win again in Game 2, they're really in the catbird's seat. The dynamic changes with every game.

Finally, how do you see Game 2 playing out?

In Game 1, Detroit made Phoenix think. And Phoenix doesn't like to think. We don't want to think, we want to shoot. If we're thinking, we're not shooting. If we're thinking, our shot is going to be contested or there's a chance we'll turn it over. Detroit took them a little deeper into the shot clock than they like to go.

I would be surprised to see Phoenix miss 48 shots again. Diana has to get back to her normal self and the rest of the Mercury starters also need to play significant roles. If they can do that, I think Game 2 will be every bit as good and entertaining as Game 1.

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