Sunday, September 21, 2008

It seems Game 3s are the cool thing now

Detroit's no lock to make the Eastern Conference finals. Led by Tamika Catchings' 27 points, fourth-seeded Indiana prevailed, 89-82, in overtime Sunday to force a decisive Game 3 in its first-round series with the Shock.

Tammy Sutton-Brown added 19 points and Ebony Hoffman had 12, proving the Fever do have the frontcourt presence to match up with the always physical Shock. The winner of this series, of course, meets Connecticut or New York, who decide their series at 7 p.m. Monday at Mohegan Sun Arena.

Here are a few thoughts, notes and quotes from practice Sunday:

(1) The Sun spent an hour studying film and an hour on the court, a lot of the focus going to stopping New York's 3-point shooting that nearly sunk it in Saturday's 73-70 Game 2 win.

"We got away from what we’re supposed to do," Sun coach Mike Thibault said. "We allowed their 3-point shooters space to shoot. Loree Moore, OK, she makes hers (Moore is a 29 percent 3-point shooter). But (Cathrine) Kraayeveld and (Shameka) Christon, you gotta chase them to where they are. You have to get them off the 3-point line and if you let them get some confidence, they’re going to keep shooting. We had shut Kraayeveld out up until that point and then she makes three (in the fourth quarter) because we go asleep."

Tamika Whitmore called the Sun's mistakes "correctable" and a lot of it probably just comes down to focus: Recognizing where the Liberty's shooters are, closing out and force other people besides Janel McCarville to beat you from places besides the 3-point arc. McCarville, by the way, practiced Sunday, and her knee is not an issue after collapsing to the court for several moments Saturday. Jamie Carey (turf toe) practiced for the Sun, and is available. Thibault said she could have played Saturday, but he chose to go to Erin Phillips more because of the match-up with the bigger Moore.

(2) As for New York's mindset after Saturday's near comeback, New York coach Pat Coyle said she isn't worried about her team's psyche.

"Are they disappointed? Sure they’re disappointed, but that’s not going to stop us from making the adjustments and doing the things that we need to do," she said. "It’s unfortunate that you look at the last quarter and the last three minutes of the game. And to me, it’s about the entire game. The two turnovers we had in the first half can make a difference. It’s unfortunate that you look at the last two or three minutes. But that game wasn’t won or lost in the last two minutes."

Coyle, for the most part, is right. Similar to Connecticut's Game 1 loss in New York on Thursday, if New York had started better or closed the gap slightly in the third quarter, it wouldn't have had to be near perfect from 3 just to be in the game. Unfortunately for them, they weren't, missing three attempts in the final minute.

"I credit Connecticut," Coyle said. "They did a good job. They had their backs up against the wall, they had some desperation. But it was more of us than them. I thought they had a good plan, but it was more of the things that we did and didn’t do."

New York caused Connecticut some problems early Saturday when it isolated McCarville or used mis-matches to their advantage to free her in the post. If McCarville can establish herself — though she hasn't had a break-out game against them yet this year — that can force Connecticut to collapse more, thus opening up more 3-point opportunities. It's a simple formula that's worked for them throughout the year. Thibault called the playoffs "a chess match" and that is just one manuever the Liberty can use.

(3) How Saturday's game played out, though, really leaves this each team without momentum. New York finished strong but lost while Connecticut faded but won. Considering how short these series are anyway, they rarely have a definitive flow, meaning anything can happen Monday night.

"I think you’re just playing one game to move on," Thibault said. "And both teams will be equally motivated, they’ll play equally hard. It’s who executes the game plan better. That’s what it comes down to. What team can focus and stay in the moment for 40 minutes. If you get a lead, you can’t relax. If you get behind, you can’t go crazy. You just have to play. Both sides have to feel that way."

If they advance, this would mark Connecticut's fifth appearance in the conference finals in six years. They've won it twice, in 2004 and 2005. If they don't advance, it'd be the second straight time they've failed to do so.

"It feels a lot like past playoff series," Thibault said. "Somebody gets on a roll and then the other team counters. It’s whoever does it a little bit better."

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