Monday, October 06, 2008

MVP Katie Smith finds a way


October 6, 2008

Shock leader sees all the angles on court

All series she'd been two steps ahead of everyone else, anticipating angles and lanes and the smallest of creases before they opened up. That's how it is when you see a basketball court the way Katie Smith sees it.

Sunday night at the Eastern Michigan University's Convocation Center, Smith used that vision to demoralize the San Antonio Silver Stars in Game 3 of the WNBA Finals. In short, she simply took over from the opening tip of the opening game. And when she was finished, and the Silver Stars had been swept back to Texas, and the confetti fell around her, the Shock guard had earned her first Finals MVP, averaging 21.7 points a game.

"Her will is never to lose," said assistant coach Rick Mahorn. "Players just can't get that. It's already instilled in them."

In that sense, she may be the most clutch athlete in the city at the moment. With apologies to Henrik Zetterberg, no player around here dominates their sport the way Smith does when the game is on the line.

Sunday night, with a championship at stake and her team struggling a bit, she sliced open a close game and iced the team's third title in the past six years, scoring 11 of her 18 points in the last quarter.

It all started with the clock winding down at the end of the third quarter, when she took her defender off the dribble, glided to the hole and lofted a finger-roll off the glass.

She followed that gorgeous foray with two free throws. Then an 18-footer from the wing. Then, in what was the backbreaker, a three-pointer that she'd set up after directing traffic on a fast break.

"A coach on the floor," Mahorn said.

Head coach Bill Laimbeer went further.

"This was Katie Smith's series," he said.

Smith told Laimbeer in a huddle early in the fourth that "we are not going to lose this game. I'm going to make shots right here."

She didn't want to play another game and give the Silver Stars any chance at momentum -- last year, Smith and the Shock lost to the Phoenix Mercury in five games. So when the fourth quarter started, Smith took over. That's two titles in three years for the 34-year-old. She also has three gold medals -- she added to that collection in August in Beijing.

Yet Smith remains one of women's basketball's most low-profile stars. She was a phenom at Ohio State, a scoring prodigy when she entered the WNBA in Minnesota. She was named to the All-Decade team in 2006.

She could never dunk and was never particularly quick or flashy, but she knew how the game worked. And she knew how to shoot. Most important, she knew how to rise up late in games.

"It's something I've been doing since I was in the fifth grade," she said.

Sunday night, Smith rose up again, taking the team, and this franchise, with her.

"She wanted to put her mark on this series," Laimbeer said.

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