by Adrienne Goodson
WNBA FINALS–GAME ONE
I must say, the Detroit Shock look good right now. I mean, what a great time to come together. Sorry Gary Payton, but Deanna Nolan is now “the female Glove.” She put the hooks in Katie Douglas in the first series against Indiana, slowed down Shameka Christon in the battle with New York for the Eastern Conference Championship, and has now created problems for Becky Hammon in the WNBA Finals. Nolan’s counterpart, Katie Smith, is so…in a zone right now. In this first game against San Antonio she had 25 points and 9 rebounds along with some credit-worthy defense down low. The thing I love about her is that she’s in shape, knows the game and has an arsenal of moves without the ball like Reggie Miller. She was always a tough player to guard. I’ll have more on her in a minute.
Another reason why Detroit is on point is because of the new addition of Taj Mc Williams–Franklin to the roster. Taj was the second leading scorer for the Shock in Game 1 of the Finals. She had 24 pts and played some monster defense in the paint. The move to get Taj for the playoffs was brilliant. Out of all post moves made by teams—this one was the best. Bill Laimbeer knows how to pick em.
In my last post, I talked about the game of chess and that whoever came up against Bill Laimbeer had to be ready to strategize. If you take a look at the post season and the player movement involved, it’s crystal clear Detroit played to win. Seattle had five injured players and never made a move to strike, L.A. signed Margo Dydek and got little out of that while Sacramento believed in their youth.
On the other hand, San Antonio had made moves, but in the offseason. Dan Hughes acquired Ann Wauters and she fit in just fine. It was like she was the missing ingredient. She’s a hard worker down low and her performance this season has allowed for Sophia Young and Hammon to play freely. Sophia has played well throughout the season while Becky warmed up against Sacramento in the first series and then single-handedly torched the Sparks for 35 points in the deciding game of the Western Conference Championship series.
The last thing that sets Detroit apart has honestly been the play of their rookie phenomenon Alexis Hornbuckle. She does all of the intangibles and is beginning to develop a nice 15-foot game. Not only is she a scorer, but she is also a rebounding guard which makes her dangerous. Just from watching her over the summer I can tell the assistant coaches have worked with her, especially her confidence. It exudes from her. She’s not the same player who went into training camp in May.
The Detroit-San Antonio series would be intense. Detroit won the first encounter, 77–69, but it wasn’t over yet. They have done a good job at finding their way out of tough situations all season long, but this is the final dance. They really need to find another player to help carry the load down the stretch.
The game started off hot as usual but Detroit was just too strong. If Smith wasn’t hitting them up for 20 then it was either Nolan or McWilliams-Franklin crushing them down low. Everywhere there was an attack by San Antonio, Detroit had a counter especially on the defensive end. Hammon had a sensational showing in the playoffs but can’t seem to get open in this series. They showed at least three different people on her and most were taller, making it difficult for her to get a good look at the basket. You could tell that Detroit watched a lot of film prior to the games. They locked up the guards and the post.
San Antonio is a great team and what Coach Hughes did for that team was powerful. He constructed a team that he felt would compete on the level that would bring the Stars close to a championship. In retrospect I believe they are two players short of a championship. They need a tall wing with skills and a sixth man to come in a do damage. They lacked depth and it showed in the end. Becky was the focus on defense for Detroit. They challenged the rest of the Stars to beat them and it worked like a charm. They came out with a hard-earned, 69-61 win in San Antonio which is tough on any night.
It was Katie, Katie, and more Katie. Did I say Katie? The game was all Detroit from beginning to the end. It was a long 40 minutes for San Antonio. They got a dose of what it’s like to play a team that is on point in every area. Rebounding, defense, running sets, counteracting defense, you name it, Detroit did it well. It’s hard to win against a team like that. San Antonio has been officially prepared for next season. What they take away from this series is valuable to any team in pursuit of a championship.
Detroit has swept San Antonio in three games, won three consecutive conference titles, and earned three WNBA titles as a franchise. They put away San Antonio—a team that’s been tough all season, by the score of 76-60. Detroit is the best in the league for 2008 and it was well deserved. It was good to see Taj get one after 12 years as a pro and for Katie to earn MVP.
When I talked to Katie back in April she had some great things to say. I included some of the highlights of that interview in this post so that people (especially those who didn’t read it the first time) can see that goals, dreams, and staying focused go hand in hand with career success. Check out what she had to say before the season and what came to be…
Goody: Brian Agler seems like a basketball wizard. Talk about his influence on your game as a young player.
Katie: He made a huge impact on my defensive game. He made me want to lock people up and make them earn it. We spent hours and hours on defensive drills and to this day I have nightmares:) But it made me want it and I am thankful for that. On the other end he just let you use your talents on offense….shoot the ball, drive, post up. He wanted you to be a basketball player.
Goody: You were fortunate to play in both the ABL and WNBA. Talk about how the folding of the ABL ultimately strengthened the WNBA.
Katie: I loved my experience in the ABL and am thankful that the WNBA was right there to continue my career in the states. I think that the ABL top to bottom was deeper than the WNBA at that time and when the ABL folded all that talented that came over and added to what was already there. It made it a much deeper and competitive league.
Goody: The Minnesota Lynx drafted you in 1999. Talk about how that team allowed for you to sharpen your leadership skills.
Katie: I was still like a vet at that time even though a young vet:) We had to get used to the WNBA schedule and that was different but being in Minnesota was great. The organization was excited to have a team, the fans love women’s basketball and are loyal. We were in the West and we battled every night. We fought to make the playoffs but came up short a lot. But for me you still compete and go out every night and try to find ways to win and I hope that I lead by example. Everyone that played left all they had out there and it was fun to battle with them. Those tough times help you enjoy the successes even more because of the work you put in to get there.
Goody: Most players suffer some type of injury during their career. In 2004 you tore your right meniscus while participating in the Olympic Games in Athens causing you to miss the rest of the season. Talk about your comeback from that.
Katie: Yes it is a job hazard when it comes to injuries!! I actually tore my ACL for the second time on my right knee in ’04 and did also have some meniscus damage. It was tough…..I was not a spring chicken and having already tore that knee before there were a lot of changes in that knee. The rehab was a little slower and I had a lot of different aches and pains than before and I was just hoping my body would give me a chance to get back out there cause I knew I would do the work I just needed it to heal well. My first season back I pretty much just rolled into training camp after maybe playing a couple pick up games and I personally was pleased by what I did. I competed on the highest level even though I can’t say I was 100%. So after that season I stayed home in the off-season and got my body strong for the next WNBA season.
Goody: In 2005, you were traded to the Detroit Shock where you had great talent surrounding you. Talk about how important it is for a team to have at least four all-star caliber players in order to win a championship.
Katie: At this level you need threats. One or two people can put up numbers but it won’t correlate into wins. You have to make the other team worry about everyone so that things open up and that you can make them pay for helping on someone. Also it is a long season and injuries happen and to have a handful of players who can be the man any night makes you that much more difficult to guard. It is fun to play with that talent in Detroit and you can bring your game but know so is everybody else.
Goody: You are known to be one of the most “hard working” individuals in the league. Comment on what it takes to be a Katie Smith in this league.
Katie: I do feel like I work hard but it is because I want to do the best job I can for my team. I want to be ready for whatever comes my way. You have to be disciplined in our job because no one is calling and asking are you playing or working out. It is you and how bad do you want it and how good to you want to be. I pride myself on the longevity of my career but not just that but at the high level I have been doing it for so long. It is not easy. But it is rewarding to still be doing something you love and doing it well.
Goody: Detroit has great depth. Plenette Pierson and the addition of LaToya Thomas and the fourth pick in the draft (Alexis Hornbuckle) will certainly deepen the bench beyond imagination. Talk about the importance of key players on the roster.
Katie: I think we really improved our depth this year and that is something we struggled with last year. I mean where do I start? Tweety (Deanna Nolan) is one of the best two guards out there…her athleticism is amazing and on top of that her offensive skill set. She can score but is soooo unselfish and loves to play defense. Cheryl Ford is a rebounding machine!!! She is a dominating presence inside and she has got her 15-foot jumper going too. She loves to compete! She is coming off an injury and I know is chomping at the bit to get out there. Kara Braxton can run the floor, block shots, and score. I’m looking for her to be a little more consistent game in and game out but I am so ready for her to cut loose and play! LaToya I am looking forward to playing with and I know she can score and give our team another threat. Plenette Pierson, what can you say? She battles every night and has a versatile game where she can take you outside or inside but I love the way she gets after it. And of course, the draft picks I think will come in and be great. As you can tell I am excited about getting started again!
Goody: Last year, the playoffs were less than a breeze for Detroit, but you still managed to make it to the Finals. Talk about the road back to a championship and the mentality it will take to get there.
Katie: Yeah we came up a little short last year and am looking forward to battling back. I think it is a little easier when you didn’t win it the year before because you have that sour taste in you mouth from it. So the motivation that we have something to prove will hopefully get us ready every night to play and compete. I also think that our depth this year will help us go into the end of the season and the playoffs with a little more energy.
And the rest is history, folks. This was just a little dose of how powerful words are when you use them to empower yourself and those around you. Stay tuned, my friends. The fat lady loves Detroit but it ain’t over…