Defense carries Sun to Game 1 win

Originally Published: October 8, 2004
By Nancy Lieberman | Special to ESPN.com

UNCASVILLE, Conn. -- Don't be deceived by Connecticut's 68-64 victory over Seattle in Game 1 of the WNBA Finals. This should have been a blowout. The Sun led by 13 points with seven minutes to play but didn't manage the clock particularly well down the stretch.

Sue Bird
The Sun and Katie Douglas, right, stayed in front of Sue Bird all game long.
Of course, that's about the only thing Connecticut didn't do right. The Sun played well from the initial whistle. They shut down Seattle's entry passes to Lauren Jackson, tired out Sue Bird with full-court defense and continued to use their balance to win Game 1 on Friday in the WNBA Finals.

While four of Connecticut's starters reached double figures, the Sun's defense -- including a single-game WNBA Finals record 15 steals -- was more impressive. And while Katie Douglas emerged as Connecticut's star with a team-high 18 points despite going down with an ankle injury midway through the first half, Douglas' defensive presence was even more important.

Douglas and Jess Brungo picked Bird up full-court the whole game. That might not have slowed down Bird early on, but Bird did seem fatigued -- and frustrated -- down the stretch, with five or six minutes left.

And most importantly, Connecticut continuously deflected Seattle's entry passes. Bird (six turnovers), Sheri Sam and Betty Lennox combined for nine of the Storm's 17 turnovers, and you can't win when your backcourt can't take care of the ball.

Connecticut also got really physical with Seattle, and that was tough on the Storm, a finesse team that just couldn't play with the precision it's used to.

After averaging 27 points in the Western Conference finals, some might argue that Jackson (16 points, 6-of-19 from field) had a disappointing game. However, Jackson worked with what she had. She's a good team player who's not going to force shots, and Seattle continuously failed to get her the ball early enough or in the right place. Jackson did play a great defensive game.

In Game 2, Seattle must execute its offense and not allow Connecticut's defense to bog down the Storm on one side of the floor. Seattle, obviously, must also cut down on its turnovers -- it had 11 in the first half.

The Storm's guards must also draw the Sun's guards out to guard them and then use a ball fake to shift the defense, which should help cut down on those deflections. On Friday, the Storm's backcourt just looked too tired to do all these little things that usually make Seattle's passing game so proficient.

Sam (five points on 2-for-7 shooting) and Kamila Vodichkova (two points) must also come up big in Game 2. Seattle will not win if these two force Anne Donovan to limit each of them to less than 24 minutes again.

Nancy Lieberman, an ESPN analyst and Hall of Famer, is a regular contributor to ESPN.com's women's basketball coverage. Contact her at www.nancylieberman.com.

Nancy Lieberman

Basketball analyst / Writer
Nancy Lieberman, one of the most recognized individuals in women's basketball, is a men's and women's basketball analyst for ESPN. She works on ESPN and ESPN2's coverage of men's and women's college basketball, plus the WNBA and writes for ESPN.com.

ALSO SEE