With an eye towards her 12 year career coming to a close, Phoenix Mercury veteran Center Tangela Smith has stepped up her game during the 2009 playoffs. A player known for her outside shooting and weak side blocks (Smith lead the league in three-point percentage, 45.2% and total blocks, 57) Tangela has picked up her defensive intensity during the first round of the post season.
After eliminating the Silver Stars in game 3, Diana Taurasi said this about Smith's play against Ann Wauters, "You can talk about Tan's [Tangela Smith] 16 points but I look at the other side of the basketball where she had a battle with probably the best center in the world in Ann Wauters. Cappie and I played against her [Wauters] in Russia the last five years and she's by far the best."
Wauters averaged 55% shooting and 13 points per game during the regular season but only managed to shoot 39% and average 11 points against Smith's active post defense.
For the majority of the season, Smith struggled against good post players but her energy level and intensity has risen noticeably for the occasion. Smith said this about playoff basketball, "I try and approach it as any other game knowing that it might be my last game of the season or of my career. I just try and go out there and give it my all because I know that we need these games. They're more important than in the regular season. It's another level and you know that teams are going to come at you hard."
Smith is going to need to maintain her higher level of play in the next round where she will face the LA Sparks Lisa Leslie who will retire after this season. Smith joked about making sure that Leslie ends her career in this Western Conference Finals series and said this about the match up, "It's always tough playing against Lisa. She's one of the greatest post players in the WNBA of all time. It's definitely going to be more challenging because I know this is her last year and I know she's got something to prove."
Smith will try and mix up her coverages against Leslie using both a 3/4 quarter and full fronting defense to limit her touches because once Lisa gets the ball in good position in the paint she's going to score.
Tangela has one more year on her contract and insisted she would return next season. After that, she's not so sure.