Thursday, September 15, 2005

Game 1 WNBA Finals
This game was everything I thought it would be and then a little bit more. It was bittersweet to be watching a WNBA Final in Connecticut and not seeing Seattle in their road greens, but there was little time to think about what might have been even before the ball was tipped up.

Lindsay Whalen decided to play on her gimpy leg despite the pain and swelling once it was determined that she could not cause further damage to the injury by playing. She felt that the combination of fluid drainage, acupuncture and other treatments had her in playing shape, but could she still operate against Sacramento's high intensity defense?

I was convinced that Sacramento was going to win this series in 4 games. While the team's seasons were very similar, with Connecticut achieving homecourt by a one game advantage, and their point and rating differentials for the season virtually has been playoff performance which, in my mind, has separated these two teams.

Both teams offensive ratings are up from the regular season, and they are both allowing more points defensively. Whatever happened to slowed down, half court offense with more physical defense in the playoffs? What has been true for the NBA, does not appear to be playing out for the WNBA. Sacramento's defense has slid by 6 points per 100 possessions compared to Connecticuts slide of 5 points per 100 possessions. On the offensive side the Monarchs are up 10 points per 100 possessions and the Sun are up 7 points. That says to me that the Monarchs are playing better basketball in the playoffs, even if only a little bit better. The reason that little bit matters is that their roster hasn't been 100% up to this point, and are only getting closer to that 100% mark with every game. Connecticut has been at 100% throughout the playoffs, and now have the offensive engine operating at less than 100%.

The Monarchs backed up my feelings and assumptions with their play, and in my opinion, the Sun, in the end, lost due to Whalen's injury. The game came right down to the wire, as expected, but the Sun were unable to take advantage of DeMya Walker's mistake in the waning minutes, when Lindsay Whalen was unable to hit a wide open jumper that would have tied the game in the last seconds of regulation. Sacramento had one more shot in them, Connecticut did not.

I thought Whalen looked adequate at the start of the game, and then started to look in form midway through the second half. She wasn't ever fully herself, however, she barely took the ball to the basket, and when she did she seldom hit layups she would normally knock down. She had no jumper all night long. Her weakness allowed Sacramento to steal home court.

Sayles played like she did in games 2 and 3 of last years finals. I think she saved herself for this series, because she played like a different player last night. She missed a lot of shots, going 7-17 or 41% from the field, but every shot she hit was amazing and came at critical moments.

Katie Douglas shot much better, going 6-10 or 60% from the field, but they were the only two showing up for the Suns in the end. Whalen and McWilliams-Franklin seemed to disapper offensively...Whalen shot 33%, and McWilliams-Franklin shot 67%, but only took 6 shots all night. Connecticut had absolutely no inside game, with 6th man Asjha Jones adding only 2 points and starter Margo Dydek doing little other than taking up space in the lane.

Sacramento was brilliant down low with Yolanda Griffith dominating every aspect of the post on both ends of the floor. She was the overall leading scorer with 25 points and 9 rebounds. They had a solid outside game as well, and they spread that scoring around. Sacramento's bench outscored Connecticuts bench 21-8. No one off the Sun's bench scored more than 2 points.

It remains to be seen how last nights play will effect Whalen's injury, and whether swelling will limit her play or keep her out of tonight's second game of the back to back. I don't think she can bail Connecticut out here. If they are going to win tonight, they need more offense and more defense out of their post players. Taj needs to call for the ball down low, and Dydek needs to be more aggressive under the basket. Most important for Connecticut is going to be their bench. Asjha Jones needs to contribute more scoring, and someone else needs to step up off that bench and help Sayles and Douglas who are doing everything they can to save this series.

If the Sun players don't look beyond tonight, they have a chance to win the game. If they look ahead like I am, however, they will see that they don't have a chance to win a game at Arco. They worked so hard all season to win the precious home court advantage they felt cost them the Finals last year, and they gave it away last night. I won't be surprised if they don't have any fight left in them. I will be disappointed, because another game like last night will be great for the fans and even better for the league, but I won't be surprised.

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