Womhoops Guru

Mel Greenberg covered college and professional women’s basketball for the Philadelphia Inquirer, where he worked for 40 plus years. Greenberg pioneered national coverage of the game, including the original Top 25 women's college poll. His knowledge has earned him nicknames such as "The Guru" and "The Godfather," as well as induction into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

WNBA Finals: Shock Force Series To Go The Distance

By Mel Greenberg

Site controversy notwithstanding, what better venue for Saturday’s fifth and deciding game of the WNBA Finals to conclude the league’s 10th anniversary season than a place called the Joe Louis Arena in downtown Detroit.

In the aftermath of another resilient effort by the Detroit Shock Wednesday night against the Sacramento Monarchs, this series has truly become a heavyweight encounter.

The Shock’s 72-52 triumph in Sacramento’s Arco Arena has, for the moment, blocked a second-straight WNBA championship by the Monarchs and enabled these finals to land a nomination for the best-ever. More about the other candidates later.

Now whether that claim can actually be made for this series will be determined in part of how competitive the game is Saturday afternoon at 3:30 p.m. on ESPN2.

Incidentally, the reason for the change of venue is a Mariah Carey concert at the Palace in Auburn Hills, a suburb of Detroit some 30 miles away from downtown.

Beyond the competitiveness of Saturday’s game _ this is the second year of the best-of-five format _ another element that could help this series earn special distinction is that none of the previous nine championships were claimed by the visiting team in the deciding contest. Thus, a Sacramento win would be a first in that regard.

Also, how about this oddity?

If the Monarchs win Saturday, they will have claimed the Western Conference and WNBA crowns in the other team’s arena that wasn’t really the other team’s arena.

Sacramento swept the West finals by beating the Los Angeles Sparks in Anaheim, Calif. instead of the Staples Center.

During her question-and-answer session with reporters in Detroit last week, WNBA president Donna Orender expressed displeasure about both sites being shifted although she conceded that the teams’ arena contracts “allowed some wiggle room that allowed this to happen and that we won’t let happen again.

“We are disappointed by both moves, yes we are,” Orender said prior to the previous comment. “We think that the process that we put in place would have addressed these kinds of moves in advance. Unfortunately, they did not. I think we’ve all learned together and in the future we don’t anticipate that this would happen.”

Whoever wins on Saturday, they would be the first champion who operated through the season with a split personality. In some ways, that has already been reflected in the finals with Sacramento looking great on the road in the series opener and in Game 3 at home, while Detroit rebounded from near extinction in the second game at home and then Wednesday night in California.

Considering the way Detroit has played, dating back to recovering from the loss to the Connecticut Sun in Game 2 in the Eastern Finals, coach Bill Laimbeer’s team has performed appropriately to its Shock nickname in absorbing some serious beatings in its defeats.

Incidentally, there are now some seats available at the previously sold-out Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame induction proceedings Friday night in Springfield, Mass.

Swin Cash, who had planned to be there to see her University of Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma enshrined, has had to change intentions after Wednesday’s win extended the series. Laimbeer and his assistant coach Rick Mahorn won’t be there either for Detroit Pistons president Joe Dumars, a teammate of theirs when the trio were part of the back-to-back Pistons “Bad Boys” contingent that won the 1989 and 1990 NBA titles.

The swagger from that experience is what Laimbeer brought to his team Wednesday night after the Monarchs fan base came to the arena dressed to party like it did in 2005.

After all Sacramento had won 11 straight playoff games at home dating back to 2001.

Little did the home crowd ever dream that their team could be held to two measly points in the fourth quarter in a performance worse but similar to Game 2 in Detroit where the Shock defense got tougher as the game continued.

Incidentally, Katie Smith, who had 22 points, and Cheryl Ford, who had 13 points and 10 rebounds, will also have to cancel some plane tickets. Had Sacramento won Wednesday night, the two would have headed immediately for North Carolina to join the USA Basketball Senior Women’s National Team preparing for the FIBA World Championship in Brazil and which will host Australia in an exhibition game Thursday night.

Ford, along with Tennessee sophomore Candace Parker and Houston Comets center Michelle Snow, another Tennessee product, were named Wednesday as the final three selections to the squad.

The departure of Monarchs center Yolanda Griffith and Los Angeles center Lisa Leslie for family considerations made the selection of post players a necessity.

Meanwhile, the WNBA has stumbled into an interesting situation with the series extended into Saturday’s game.

In terms of buildup, the finals have been exciting watching the momentum swing from team-to-team with great post play and perimeter shooting from both sides.

But it’s going to televised, nationally, right in the heart of a slew of collegiate football games, so the numbers will be interesting, especially the attendance numbers in Detroit considering the drop off from the 2003 finals. This time, as opposed to last week, there is no holiday conflict.

As for our comment about the all-time Finals, other worthy candidates are the 2003 finals with Detroit winning both games against Los Angeles at home in the final minutes; the 1998 finals when Houston won Game 2 after a 15-point or so halftime deficit and then won a close encounter in Game 3.

“But, but …” some of you say about a few others. Yeah, the Guru knows what you’re talking about and here’s why they did not make our list.

Yeah, the New York Liberty’s Teresa Weatherspoon made the all-time almost coast-to-coast shot in Game 2 to extend the series in Houston in 1999. But the Comets ruled the next day, 59-47, to take the title.

And the next year? New York took Houston into overtime before losing Game 2 in Houston, but that gave the Comets a 2-0 sweep.

And in 2002? Nikki Teasley’s three-pointer at the buzzer in Game 2 at the Staples Center gave Los Angeles the title over New York. But again, a 2-0 sweep.

In 2004, the Seattle Storm owned the Connecticut Sun in game 3 after tying the series in Game 2 when Nykesha Sales’ attempted buzzer-beater failed.

-- Mel

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