Depth continues to be difference for Sacramento
SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- The Monarchs didn't need a circus shot going in to help them beat Detroit in Game 3 of the WNBA Finals. But the fact that they got one -- and Erin Buescher was the one who hit it -- seemed to perfectly sum up this game.
Everything went Sacramento's way in an 89-69 victory, and now the Monarchs are one win away from repeating as WNBA champions.
The "shot" came after the Monarchs' offense had broken down with less than a minute to go in the third quarter. Sacramento was up 14 points, having maintained its double-digit lead from halftime. It didn't "feel" as the Shock were necessarily making a comeback, but still Sacramento wanted that knockout punch.
As the shot clock was just about to expire, Buescher chased the ball and then, off balance, tossed in the direction of the basket. It swished for a 3-pointer.
"I just turned around and did some figure-skating moves," Buescher said.
Hmmm not sure if it was a toe loop or a lutz, but no matter. The Arco Arena crowd went bonkers and then the Shock missed three shots on their possession. Sacramento's Nicole Powell made a layup and was fouled, then converted the three-point play.
And with 2.7 seconds left, Kristin Haynie hit a driving layup for Sacramento. Nothing like an 8-0 run in the last minute of a quarter. At that point, you knew that Detroit was doomed for Game 3. Never mind there were 10 minutes left to play.
The fourth quarter was an exercise in the Monarchs' bench padding its stats. How about that? All six of Sacramento's reserves -- including Kim Smith, a rookie out of Utah who played less than three minutes -- got on the scoreboard.
Buescher led the way for the bench with 11 points. Haynie and Rebekkah Brunson had nine each. Scholanda Dorrell, a rookie from LSU, scored eight. Hamchetou Maiga-Ba had four points. And Smith hit one of two free throws.
In fact, the only Monarch who didn't score Sunday was starting guard Kara Lawson, who was 0-of-5 from the field. That says a lot right there about the Monarchs' depth. They beat Detroit by 20 points and didn't even need any offense from Lawson.
Of course, there's depth and there's D-E-P-T-H and the Monarchs have the latter. If you've seen them at all in the playoffs, you know this by now. And yet, it's still appealing to anyone who enjoys team basketball to watch how well this Sacramento bench can play, how much confidence they inspire in coach John Whisenant.
Admittedly, the Monarchs' bench lost the lead Friday night in Detroit. Buescher, in fact, was more or less terrible in that game, offensively and defensively. But she redeemed herself Sunday.
"That was like the icing on the cake where you just know, 'OK, E is back,' " DeMya Walker said, referring both to Buescher's crazy shot and her entire game. "I knew she'd bounce back."
Meanwhile, Haynie now has had two solid games in a row, having scored 11 points Friday in Detroit.
"That's a big part of our strength on this team -- we can go right down the line, and every player can contribute and do something positive out there," said Dorrell, who was 2-for-3 from 3-point range, both coming in the second quarter when the Monarchs took control of the game.
"A lot of teams in this league can only go down their bench to two or three people who can really be factors. It's important for us to play nine, 10 and even 11 people. Everybody can be fresh when our last game comes around."
Dorrell was part of the LSU teams that went to the Final Four three consecutive times.
"I've always been a 'role' player, even when I was starting," she said. "My first year of college, I started the first half of the season, then became the first person off the bench. Then next year, I had a different role. I'm satisfied with whatever I need to do. I just want to win."
All the Sacramento reserves, save Smith, played at least 12 minutes. They all got at least one rebound; Buescher led the bench in that stat, too, with five. The Sacramento bench outscored the Detroit bench 42-17. Heck, the Detroit starters only outscored the Monarchs' bench by 10 points.
"I thought one of the things that might have changed out of the [loss] in Detroit was when I substitute, I have to use certain combinations," Whisenant said. "I can't get too many inexperienced players without some veterans.
"So, long story short, I was very conscious tonight of keeping combinations. And not letting anyone play to fatigue level before I got them out."
Meanwhile, Bill Laimbeer said of the Monarchs' bench: "That's who they are. They are going to play their bench a lot more minutes than we play our bench. Doesn't mean their players are better than ours, it just means they play more. If you want a battle of the benches by stat sheets, we're going to lose damn near every time. But that's OK. Our starters have to come and play more together. It was very disappointing in the middle of this game, we stopped playing."
If Laimbeer sounds slightly less than gracious well, that's the way it is with Detroit. This isn't a knock against him or the Shock, just the reality. It's a team that's built on having "swagger" and believing they are just better than their opponents.
A lot of the time, they are. After all, they've made it to Game 4 of the WNBA Finals now. But when they get frustrated, there's no guarantee they will fight back. They did in Game 2. If they don't in Game 4, the series ends.
The Monarchs, meanwhile, are built on the whole being greater than the sum of the parts.
"We make teams pick their poison, and we do that by playing together," Walker said. "And by doing the little things. Today, we made the extra pass, we got the rebound when we needed it."
Sacramento has some outstanding individual players, but didn't have anyone on the all-league first or second teams this season. In all the games they've won so far in the playoffs, you can find more than one "MVP."
As Laimbeer said, that's who they are. Certainly on Sunday, it was a great thing to be.Mechelle Voepel of The Kansas City Star is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. She can be reached at email@example.com.