Sacramento happy to have 'old Kara' back

Sacramento's Kara Lawson started this WNBA season with some kind of energy-depleting illness. It's understandable, as Lawson is a very busy person offseason with television broadcast work for the NBA's Kings and for women's college hoops. You might expect a normal human would get worn down with her schedule. But …

Kara Lawson lacking energy? What?

Lawson is one of those people you can't imagine actually asleep. She's someone you envision talking on her cell phone while listening to her Ipod, while sending a text message, while watching television, while reading a magazine, while running on a treadmill, while playing catch with her dog.

Lawson was born on Valentine's Day, fitting for someone whose whole persona as an athlete could be defined by a picture of a giant heart. Lawson always has seemed to have so much excess energy, you figured she probably could power all her own appliances. Who needs electricity? You expect she is going to be entered someday in the 95-and-above age division of a triathlon.

Kara Lawson lacking energy? Huh?

And yet, at the start of the season, Sacramento coach John Whisenant said he didn't even know how much Lawson would be able to play this summer. And that had him worried.

In 2005, Lawson played only 24 games in the regular season because of ankle and shoulder problems. But she was a big part of the Monarchs' run to the WNBA title, averaging 11.3 points in the playoffs. And Whisenant knew he needed Lawson very much in 2006.

As it has turned out, Lawson has played in every game this season for Sacramento, and her numbers are just about the same as they've been her three previous seasons in the WNBA. Even so, for a lot of the season, she just wasn't quite the player that Whisenant was used to.

But as the Monarchs edged closer to the playoffs, Whisenant said he started to see the "old Kara" back on the floor.

Thursday night in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals in Sacramento, the "old Kara" came through. So did the rest of the Monarchs' starters in a 64-61 come-from-behind win over Los Angeles. Sacramento got all but three of its points from the starters, all of whom made crucial plays for the Monarchs in the second half.

When it looked as if L.A. was on the verge of possibly putting the game away, Nicole Powell hit big shots to re-energize her team and the Arco Arena crowd. Yolanda Griffith had 18 points while her All-Star/Olympian counterpart at center, Lisa Leslie, had seven (3-of-13 from the field). DeMya Walker worked hard on defense, snared some big rebounds and had eight points.

Ticha Penicheiro also got important boards; she and Walker tied for the team lead on the glass with seven each. And Penicheiro hit a 3-pointer with 1 minute, 16 seconds left that tied the game 58-58 and sent the building into hysterics.

Did anyone anywhere watching this game not yell out loud -- no matter whom you were rooting for, or if you weren't rooting for either side -- when Penicheiro nailed that shot?

Penicheiro made only six 3-pointers during the regular season out of 31 attempts. Yes, that's a ghastly 19.4 percent -- just off her 19.5 percent for the 2005 regular season. But still better than her most-frozen season behind the arc: 15.8 percent in 1999. Penicheiro is a 24.0-percent 3-point shooter for her WNBA career during the regular season. However

In now 29 postseason games, she has made 31 percent of her 3-pointers: 18 of 58, including 4-of-6 in the three contests this year. The 3-pointer isn't Penicheiro's game most of the season, but she becomes somewhat of a threat from long range in the playoffs.

Lawson, on the other hand, was drafted into the league mostly because of her 3-point ability. She made 256 of them at Tennessee. Lawson has shot 40.2 percent from behind the arc in her WNBA career during the regular season. In now 23 playoff games, she has made 39 of 93 (41.9 percent).

Lawson put the Monarchs up with less than a minute to go, 61-58, with her second 3-pointer of the game. Pandemonium at Arco. Then L.A.'s Mwadi Mabika made a ridiculously hard 3-pointer and tied the score again.

But Lawson had the last big play: a bounce pass to the cutting Griffith as the shot clock wound down, giving the Monarchs a 63-61 lead with 10 seconds left. OK, sure, then Lawson did miss the first of two free throws with 3 seconds remaining, which could have officially iced the game.

It was only the fourth free throw she has missed in 2006; she was 36-of-39 in the regular season and is 4-for-5 thus far in the playoffs. The miss allowed L.A. one more chance. But the Sparks' Lisa Willis couldn't hit a desperation 3-pointer at the buzzer.

Then, Lawson -- who finished with 13 points, five rebounds and five assists -- took the microphone and addressed the cheering Monarchs fans. She told them to head south to Anaheim, where the displaced-from-the-Staples Center Sparks will be host for Game 2.

Same old Kara.

Mechelle Voepel of The Kansas City Star is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. She can be reached at mvoepel123@yahoo.com.