Friday, September 7, 2007

Coach's Corner: Detroit Takes Game 1

Storm Assistant Coach Shelley Patterson will provide the perspective of a veteran WNBA assistant throughout the WNBA Finals, giving fans an indication of what to watch for in the Coach's Corner. Today she offers her thoughts on Detroit's 108-100 Game 1 victory and how the Mercury can even the series in Saturday's Game 2 (12:30 p.m., ESPN).

What stood out to you from Game 1?
I figured both coaches would stick to their gameplans. Phoenix would try to play up-tempo and use their zone. Detroit did play a little smallball, but then they went to their bigs and started pounding the offensive glass and getting to the free-throw line.

Diana Taurasi's absence [because of foul trouble] hurt Phoenix, especially in their rover defense. She makes that zone defense go. Without her, Detroit found more gaps in the zone. Also, her size helps with rebounding.

Still, Phoenix was in the game at the end and the score (a 108-100 final) plays into their hands.

Do you see the Mercury making many adjustments going into Game 2?
I don't see them changing their philosophy. I think Paul Westhead is hoping his guards break out of their slump. He figures it's a case of his team not making shots.

Phoenix does have to tighten up their defense. Detroit took advantage of the short corner [on the baseline about 10 feet away from the hoop] and really overloaded one side of the zone. Phoenix's posts have to box out so they can get out and run as well as cut down on Detroit's second-chance points.

Looking back at Phoenix vs. Detroit, one or two of the Mercury's perimeter players haven't played well in each of the matchups. Diana just wasn't there in Game 1 [she scored 10 points on 3-for-8 shooting]. As a coach, you hope somebody is off, but Detroit is able to lock down on the perimeter and matches up really well. They really did a good job of containing dribble penetration and staying away from having to give help 2-on-1, which gives up open shots. Katie Smith is a really tough matchup for Diana.

How important is whether Cheryl Ford plays?
Kara Braxton had a big Game 1 [19 points and 12 rebounds in 20 minutes] to help replace Ford, but will she show up in every game? Ford is still going to give you that rebounding edge despite her knee injury. There's also a psychological edge - Detroit feels better if she's in the game. With her knee, though, you do wonder - can she keep up with the pace? Phoenix will want to make her run.

Is the outcome of Game 2 critical?
I think Westhead is thinking we have to get one of the two games in Detroit. When they get home and have the crowed behind them, their shots will fall a little more, but they have to get a win in Detroit to win this series and Game 5 would be tough to win on the road.

I also think Phoenix needs one game to get their confidence back against Detroit, having lost all three matchups this season.

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