By Anthony McClean, Editor In Chief Emeritus NEW HAVEN (BASN) —...
Shock steal win in Game 1 of WNBA Finals
Laimbeer got one from 6-foot-2 post player Taj McWilliams-Franklin. He got another from Olympic gold medalist Katie Smith. Ironically, McWilliams-Franklin will be 38 later this month and Smith is 34. The Shock were playing their third game in four days.
The Oldies but Goodies combined for 49 points — Smith (25) and McWilliams-Franklin (24) — to lead the Shock to a 77-69 victory Wednesday night at the AT&T Center. Game 2 of the best-of-five series is Friday night at the same site.
“I felt good shooting the ball,” said Smith, who had ice packs on both knees following the game. She made 4 of 8 3-pointers, including a rare four-point play to give the Shock a 40-30 lead late in the first half. She also had nine rebounds and three assists. “We want to be aggressive. If we get a good look, knock it down.
“This was an important win. We wanted to steal one here to get home-court. I felt Taj started out well and Kara (6-6 center Braxton) was aggressive out there too.”
Braxton and Deanna Nolan each scored 10.
This is the Shock’s fourth WNBA Finals appearance. They are trying to earn their third league championship, winning in 2003 and 2006 and falling in five games to Phoenix last season. The Game 1 loss was the Silver Stars’ first taste of the Finals.
The Shock played outstanding team defense to limit Silver Stars guard Becky Hammon to 13 points and 4-of-10 shooting. She scored nine during a 20-6 run to turn a 14-point fourth-quarter deficit into a 69-69 tie with 2:16 remaining and get the 9,380 fans, including the Spurs’ Tim Duncan and several of his teammates, out of their seats.
The Shock answered with a game-ending 8-0 run, started when McWilliams-Franklin found Braxton underneath for a basket. Smith followed with a jumper.
“We’ve got gamers out there who understand how to execute under pressure,” Smith said. “We locked in on defense. I felt we did a good job on Becky. We don’t want to give her any open 3s. We want her to earn everything she gets.”
Laimbeer was pleased with the team effort. The Shock limited San Antonio to 1-of-12 shooting from 3-point range. Hammon scored 35, making 6 of 8 3-pointers in a Game 3 win over Los Angeles Sunday in the Western Conference finals.
“I thought our team played with great heart and emotion,” Laimbeer said. “And Katie Smith was phenomenal out there. She wanted the basketball. Her will pushed us a long way today. It was clear they were trying to take Deanna Nolan away.
“Katie Smith was huge. Taj was phenomenal.”
On stopping Hammon, Laimbeer replied, “We have two very, very quality defensive guards in Deanna Nolan and Katie Smith. They can hold their own, and on top of that push them to where help is going to be, and that’s how we can keep great players from dominating the game.
“You’re not going to keep her (Hammon) down, but you can try to keep her from dominating the game, and I think that’s what our team did tonight.”
Silver Stars forward Sophia Young had 21 points and nine rebounds.
The Silver Stars entered the game with a 14-0 record against Eastern Conference teams, including a two-game sweep over the Shock. But that was then, before Laimbeer traded for McWilliams-Franklin during the Olympic break.
With Plenette Pierson sidelined with a dislocated right shoulder, and her teammates struggling early, McWilliams-Franklin stepped up and delivered in the city in which she lives.
McWilliams-Franklin made her first four shots in the opening quarter to keep the Shock close.
The Shock, who trailed 18-13 in the opening quarter, dominated the second to take control.
Braxton overpowered former Shock post player Ruth Riley for three inside baskets early in the second quarter and added a pair of assists as the Shock took a 42-32 halftime lead.