Cash answers call to help Shock even series
AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- One way or another, it appears Swin Cash is going to be a center of attention in the WNBA Finals. The Detroit Shock are glad it's for a different reason this time around.
After playing just 11 minutes in Game 1 and answering questions about her working relationship with coach Bill Laimbeer for probably five or six times as long, Cash logged nearly 34 minutes on the court in Game 2 and contributed 11 points, eight rebounds and five assists as the Shock evened the series with a 73-63 win.
"I thought Swin Cash played the way that we want her to play," Laimbeer said after the victory. "She came from the start and brought all the energy in the world to our ball club. That's the stat line that I envisioned for her when they started the season. I told her we have additional scorers in Katie Smith, and every time [Cash] walks on the floor, I want her to be capable of having a triple-double."
Compared to the press horde that follows the University of Connecticut women's basketball team throughout the season, the media room for Game 2 of the WNBA Finals looked positively deserted. Then again, Cash rarely had to bounce back from 24-point losses during her UConn days and generally left any coach-player theatrics to Diana Taurasi and Geno Auriemma.
But even if Cash was used to scrutiny at least on par with what she has faced the last 48 hours, her performance in Game 2 had to be a relief, right? Not if you ask her.
"I guess I don't put a lot of my thought into what the media and commentators say," Cash said with bags of ice secured to at least three parts of her body after the game. "I'm a very humble person. I play this game because I love to play it. As long as I have, you know, my family and friends and faith in my life, I really don't worry too much about what other people say."
It might have sounded like a typical postgame cliché, if not for the fact that something has to explain Cash's resiliency during a roller-coaster postseason run that has been a microcosm of a regular season spent trying to recapture the form that earned her a place on the short list of WNBA superstars before a knee injury two years ago.
Laimbeer's protestations aside, there is more to Cash's statistical decline than just sacrificing field-goal attempts with Smith aboard. After shooting 46 percent in 2003 and 2004, Cash shot just 38 percent this past regular season. And even accounting for a slight decrease in minutes, her assists and rebounds fell off, even as Laimbeer dreamed of triple-doubles.
But even after a challenging regular season, Cash found enough in her tank to turn in a couple of key performances in the playoffs. Most notably before Friday's game, her play in the opening quarter of the third game against Connecticut in the Eastern Conference finals set the tone for a game the Shock would control from the outset.
Again on Friday, Cash's energy was obvious from the outset, this time serving as one of the few highlights in a slow start for the Shock. In fact, if not for a stretch of the second quarter where she scored three baskets in less than three minutes to keep the Monarchs from extending to another early double-digit lead, Smith and Deanna Nolan might have seen their second-half heroics go for naught.
Watching Cash back down first Hamchetou Maiga-Ba and then Nicole Powell, spinning away for soft jumpers against both, it was easy to flash back to 2003, when Cash was Detroit's hub and played all but four minutes of the three WNBA Finals games against the Sparks. It was there, posting 13 points, 12 rebounds and nine assists in the decisive Game 3, that Cash might have set the mental picture in Laimbeer's mind to which he still wants her to aspire.
"I don't think I came out different, with a different mindset," Cash said. "It's the Finals, I prepare the same way. My teammates were calling calls early and got the ball in some positions to be aggressive and [I] thought it just started with energy."
Maybe it wasn't a different mindset for Cash, but the results were undeniably different. Perhaps she's not the central figure for this team these days, but it certainly seems like the Shock play their best basketball when Cash answers the call.
AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- Game 2 started out as another embarrassing performance for Detroit. At halftime, Sacramento had grabbed 10 more rebounds and been up by as many as 11 points as the Shock shot just 38 percent.
Katie Smith had no points, Deanna Nolan was just 3-for-10 from the field and Cheryl Ford had three points after getting into early foul trouble. This is a game that Detroit could win? Hardly.
But after the break, Detroit finally played the defense I've been waiting a game and a half to see. In the regular season, the Shock ranked second in points allowed and entered the WNBA Finals giving up just 66 points per game.
That defense didn't show up in Game 1 but was the key for Friday's come-from-behind win. Some of it was simple stuff, such as just playing more aggressively and getting into the passing lanes. We've also said rebounding would be an X-factor in this series and it was Friday; Sacramento outrebounded Detroit 20-10 in the first half, but the Shock had the edge in the second with a plus-eight margin on the boards.
The most amazing stat, though, was the fact that only one Sacramento starter (Kara Lawson) scored in the third period, and up until the game's final 21 seconds, only two Monarchs starters found the net in the final two quarters. The Monarchs were simply shut down.
Detroit made a couple of key offensive adjustments, too. In running a 1-4 high set and starting the offense above the foul line, the Shock took away the Monarchs' weak-side help in their white-line defense.
Then, Detroit really affected Sacramento when they started screening on the weak side. Whichever Shock player who was low on the weak side would clear out on the ball-side corner. The post then had room to set a flare screen, which set up Smith to catch-and-shoot or at least give her room to dribble the baseline and get some shots up without the defense sitting right on top of her. With more options, Smith started hitting from everywhere -- beyond the arc, some mid-range jumpers and also some driving layups to score all 16 of her points in the second half.
Swin Cash, who has been lambasted for her inconsistency this postseason, delivered with a very solid night. Her energy and effort were back and helped the Shock survive early on. Detroit's bench was also fantastic, contributing 18 crucial points.
-- ESPN analyst Nancy Lieberman
AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- There may have been a brief time in their lives when Detroit's Deanna Nolan and Katie Smith were shy about continuing to keep shooting. You know, maybe when they were toddlers or something, a little doubt crept in. They might have gotten just a bit hesitant. But they shook it off and that was pretty much the last of that.
They know shooters aren't supposed to stop just because the ball, net and rim aren't cooperating.
At the end of the first quarter Friday -- which was basically almost the equivalent of an elimination game for the Shock -- Nolan was 2-of-6 from the floor and Smith was 0-for-2. Detroit trailed by seven.
By halftime, things were not looking better. Nolan was 3-of-10, Smith 0-for-3. They had combined for more turnovers (four) than shots made from the field. Detroit trailed 42-33.
It all changed in the second half, though. Smith went 6-of-10, Nolan 5-for-10. And while they were in the process of doing that, Sacramento was suddenly in need of a GPS tracking device to even locate the basket. The Monarchs' 7-of-34 shooting disaster in the final 20 minutes couldn't stand up to the suddenly sensational Shock.
With a 73-63 win at the Palace of Auburn Hills, Detroit at least now has a chance of winning the title. Nolan finished 8-of-20 from the field and had a game-high 21 points. Smith was 6-of-13 and scored 16.
Nolan was asked when she thought the tide turned in favor of the Shock.
"When Katie hit that 3 at the end of the third quarter," Nolan said. "We knew then we had the momentum going into the fourth quarter."
That was Smith's first 3-pointer of the game, and came with 2.2 seconds left in the third quarter. In the final period, Detroit outscored Sacramento 25-9.
"I think we just had so much energy going forward," Detroit's Ruth Riley said. "Katie hit a big shot."
Sacramento coach John Whisenant knew that, too.
"Katie's a handful; she's always been," Whisenant said.
"I call her an Ohio State fullback. She's strong and powerful. And she's a deadly shooter. I would have much rather she didn't make [that shot]. But, I mean, I still thought we could win the game." More
-- ESPN.com's Mechelle Voepel
11 How bad did the Monarchs end up shooting Friday? Consider that they were 47 percent from the field in the first half but finished just 33 percent from the floor, and it's no wonder Sacramento squandered what appeared to be a shoo-in victory for a 2-0 lead in the series.
Instead, after hitting 10 field goals in the first quarter to jump to a 26-19 lead, the Monarchs sank just 11 field goals the rest of the way, including a 3-for-18 performance in the pivotal fourth quarter.
There was a time in the early days of the WNBA when the only way you would have found a Canadian player on a roster was if her baskets counted at the exchange rate of the day.
These days, the Canadian dollar is stronger, but so is the nation's women's basketball. Tammy Sutton-Brown was the first Canadian player to appear in the WNBA Finals, playing as a rookie with Charlotte in 2001. But Sacramento rookie Kim Smith has a chance this season to become the first player from north of the border to win a title.
Though Smith has played sparsely in the playoffs -- and has yet to appear in the Finals -- she made a significant contribution off the bench early in the season, giving coach John Whisenant valuable minutes when the Monarchs were at far less than full strength. Averaging just more than 12 minutes a game in May and June, Smith showed that her lithe, 5-foot-11 frame could still handle the inside-outside role she perfected in winning or sharing Mountain West player-of-the-year honors in each of her four seasons at Utah. More
-- ESPN.com's Graham Hays
Katie Smith, Detroit
It has become a familiar refrain for Sacramento coach John Whisenant when asked about Detroit guard Katie Smith.
"You know, there's a reason she's been on Olympic teams and won gold medals," Whisenant said after Smith scored 16 points -- all in the second half -- in Detroit's Game 2 win. "She's an outstanding player."
Now the man in charge of the Monarchs defense must figure out a way to make sure he doesn't have to insert "WNBA championship" if he trots out that line next year.
Smith didn't lead the Shock in scoring on Friday night -- that honor went to Deanna Nolan with 21 points -- but no single shot was more important than Smith's 3-pointer in the closing seconds of the third quarter. Despite their offense falling apart following another solid first quarter, the Monarchs held a nine-point lead when Smith drained the shot with Kara Lawson in her face. Without the bucket, which appeared to feed a crucial burst of oxygen into a smoldering fire for the Shock, who knows what would have happened in the final quarter.
Smith didn't score in the first half, but veteran poise won out over championship nerves (Smith did win two titles in the ABL).
"I haven't been here before, and who knows if I'll ever get back to this position," Smith said. "But I'm sure going to leave it all out there and try my darnedest to help out this team."
Now the Monarchs need to do their darnedest to make sure she doesn't get open.
“When Katie [Smith] made the 3-ball, we told them they've got 10 minutes to hold their home court and get back in the series. ”
— Shock coach Bill Laimbeer
Swin Cash wasn't the only one giving Game 2 of the WNBA Finals a retro vibe.
When the Shock won their first title, Elaine Powell was a key contributor at point guard. Powell averaged 28 minutes a game in the championship series against Los Angeles that season and led Detroit in assists during the playoffs.
Powell rejoined the roster at midseason this year after a short stint with Chicago, but her role was substantially diminished with Katie Smith and Deanna Nolan eating up most of the backcourt minutes. She averaged just 10.6 minutes off the bench in 11 games and all but vanished during the conference finals against Connecticut. But with the Shock picking up fouls right and left early in Friday's game, Bill Laimbeer opted to give Powell some minutes as part of a smaller lineup.
And while the six points, one assist and one rebound she ultimately posted in just less than 12 minutes might not look like much in the box score, Powell's unexpected offense paired with Cash's contributions to keep the Shock in the game heading into halftime.
"It was great to see her out there," Cash said. "I thought EP came in and she was very assertive; she was making key plays for her. Like I said, this was definitely a team effort. I thought we all were just one out there."
Added Laimbeer, "Our bench contributed in many ways; 18 points off the bench doesn't seem like a lot, but it was the stability that they brought to our ball club tonight that was a big factor in the game."
It's entirely probable that Powell will fade back into the shadows as the series shifts to Sacramento -- Smith and Nolan certainly aren't about to give up any minutes. But in making her presence felt in one key stretch of a game the Shock had to win, Powell has already had a significant impact on the series.
|Kristin Haynie had the game of her young career on Friday night, but it still wasn't enough to help Sacramento seize the series by the throat with a 2-0 lead. And all of a sudden, the Monarchs find themselves confronted with the same matchup dilemma that has befuddled the rest of the league in trying to contain Deanna Nolan.
As a rookie last season, Haynie managed just six total points in limited minutes during the four-game championship series against Connecticut. She nearly doubled that in close to 17 minutes off John Whisenant's bench on Friday, scoring 11 points and adding three assists and two rebounds.
But it was Haynie, despite giving her all on defense much as Connecticut's Erin Phillips had in the conference finals, who found herself separated from Nolan by bruising picks or simply left a step behind by Nolan's afterburners in the second half. When it was over, Nolan led all scorers with 21 points and once again left you with the feeling that she's the only person who can truly stop her.
So what do the Monarchs do? Ticha Penicheiro was reduced to an afterthought in the first two games. She hasn't been able to stick with Nolan and the Shock were athletic enough to make it a big problem when they used Penicheiro's defender as sort of a roving one-player zone.
That left Haynie, who might be hard-pressed to repeat her offensive outburst from Game 2. In a best-case scenario, Haynie, who scored her points with aggressive drives and shots, continues to emerge as a star in the making. But if she can't maintain that production and nobody can check Nolan, things could start to break down for the Monarchs.
For a complete look at the WNBA Finals schedule, previous results and upcoming games, click here.
Game 1 recap:
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