Tuesday, September 30, 2008
Capsule preview of the WNBA finals
A look at the best-of-five WNBA finals, which starts Wednesday:
SAN ANTONIO SILVER STARS (24-10) VS. DETROIT SHOCK (22-12)
Season series: Silver Stars won 2-0.
San Antonio: The Silver Stars reached the finals for the first time after getting past preseason favorite Los Angeles in the Western Conference finals. Becky Hammon and Sophia Young, the team's top two scorers and bona fide MVP candidates, have been key in the postseason. Young's last-second basket in Game 2 saved San Antonio from elimination, and then Hammon scored 35 points -- including four free throws in the final 36 seconds -- to hold off the Sparks in Game 3. The Silver Stars reached the West finals for the second straight year after outlasting Sacramento in overtime of Game 3 in the first round. Hammon is averaging 20.2 points and 4.3 assists in the playoffs, and Young 18.7 ppg and 6.0 rpg. San Antonio set a franchise record for victories during the regular season and won the West largely by going 14-0 against the East. The Silver Stars were also the only team with a winning road record (9-8). They won the first-round opener at Sacramento, but lost against the Sparks at Los Angeles. San Antonio features a strong inside-outside game with Hammon (17.6 ppg, 4.9 apg), Young (17.5 ppg, 5.6 rpg) and center Ann Wauters (14.7 ppg, 7.5 rpg) accounting for about two-thirds of the team's scoring during the season. Erin Buescher (7.2 ppg), Vickie Johnson (6.7 ppg, 5.3 rpg) and Ruth Riley (5.1 ppg) were strong veteran complements. Johnson is making her fifth appearance in WNBA finals, after losing with New York in 1997, 1999, 2000 and 2002. Riley was on Detroit 's two championship teams (2003, 2006), and Buescher won the title with Sacramento in 2005. The Silver Stars had the third-best scoring differential (plus-3.76) during the season, but were minus-2.5 against Sacramento and Los Angeles. Hammon averaged 21.5 ppg, 6.5 rpg in the two meetings against the Shock, Young had 19.0 ppg, 8.0 rpg and Wauters 15.5 ppg, 8.0 rpg.
Detroit: The Shock are in the WNBA finals for the third straight year, and fourth in the last six, after holding off New York in Game 3 of the East finals. Detroit lost Game 1 at New York and then trailed by seven after three quarters of Game 2 before outscoring the Liberty 25-9 in the fourth. The Shock led by 20 in the first half of Game 3 before holding on for a 75-73 victory. Taj McWilliams-Franklin, acquired during the Olympic break to fill the void left by Cheryl Ford's season-ending knee injury, had 19 points and eight rebounds in the finale to help Detroit join Houston and New York as the only teams to reach the championship round four times. The Comets won the league's first four titles, and the Liberty lost its four appearances. Houston (1997-2000) and Los Angeles (2001-03) are the only other teams to reach the finals in three consecutive years. The Shock beat Sacramento for their second title in 2006 and then lost to Phoenix last year. Deanna Nolan is averaging 20.7 points in the postseason, and veteran forward Katie Smith has added 14.0 ppg the last five games. Plenette Pierson returned from a shoulder injury in Game 2 of the first round against Indiana to get 10 points and four rebounds in the second game against New York, but then played only 6 minutes in Game 3. Detroit won six of seven after the Olympic break to earn the East's top seed. The Shock, winners of 17 of 21 on their home court this year, will play Game 3 of the finals at Eastern Michigan's campus in Ypsilanti because of a scheduling conflict at the Palace of Auburn Hills. Detroit, which won both games at EMU's Convocation Center against New York, will return to the Palace for Game 4, if necessary. Nolan averaged 18.0 ppg and 6.5 rpg in the regular season against San Antonio. Smith added 15.0 ppg and 7.5 apg, and center Kara Braxton had 13.0 ppg and 7.0 rpg.
Prediction: Silver Stars in 5.