Saturday, September 15, 2007

Game 5 on Tap

By tomorrow evening, we will have a new WNBA Champion ... or not.

For the second straight year, the Detroit Shock is hosting a winner-take-all Game 5 of the WNBA Finals. Last year, the Shock defeated Sacramento to earn a second championship in four years. Can Detroit win again and make it a dynasty?

A pair of knee injuries could go a long ways toward answering that question. When we exchanged Finals previews a couple weeks ago, Steve Burt from the Women's Hoops Blog (and Full Court Press) pointed out "When we look back on it in two weeks we're going to be looking at somebody's injury or somebody's declining health as the key."

If that somebody was Cheryl Ford, who is doubtful for Game 5 after reinjuring her left knee late in Game 4, that wouldn't be a surprise. However, Ford had a surprise companion on the Shock's injury report; guard Deanna Nolan is also listed as doubtful with a hyperextended left knee.

The headline in the Detroit Free Press, in part: "title chances look bleak."

I'd be surprised if Nolan didn't play in the deciding game, but it is tough to imagine the Shock winning without her. Nolan has been a primary source of offense, particularly down the stretch, in addition to guarding Cappie Pondexter.

The Mercury pulled out a close Game 4 at the US Airways Center, but if this game goes down to the stretch and Nolan is healthy Detroit has to be the favorite. Phoenix's offense has tended to bog down in the fourth quarter, and I think part of the issue is how often the Mercury tends to simply go one-on-one with either Pondexter or Diana Taurasi on the perimeter or Penny Taylor in the post.

I'd love to see more pick-and-rolls with Taylor as the screener - Pondexter scored off just such a play late in Game 4 before making a brilliant individual play to beat Nolan for the game-winner.

Of course, the Mercury's offense might seem fine if Tangela Smith could buy a shot. She was 0-for-10 from three-point range in Phoenix after hitting 7-for-10 in the first two games of the series.

If Nolan sits out, the Mercury should steal Game 5. If not, however, home-court advantage will probably prove the difference in favor of Detroit.

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