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Around the Web: The Detroit-Indiana Series is Physical, Tough, and "the closest thing to MMA coming to Conseco Fieldhouse"

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With there already being so much written on this site about the Western Conference Finals and its players because of our inherent West Coast bias, today's links post will focus exclusively on the Eastern Conference Finals...because, you know, the East Coast never gets any love in sports, right? So...some links as well as my own observations from last night's game.

While the Indiana Fever hang their hat on defense, they are probably also one of the most well rounded teams in the WNBA this season.

The Detroit Shock are doing everything in their power to upset that balance and reduce Indiana’s perfectly tuned game to the tenor of a bar fight.

And it’s been fun to watch, if you enjoy watching a hard-fought battle of wills. From David Woods at IndyStar.com:

Posted in the Fever locker room was a statement by Detroit coach Rick Mahorn that was picked up by an ESPN2 microphone in Wednesday's Game 1.

"Hit her in the (expletive) nose," Mahorn said.

The Fever's response?

"Tomorrow is just going to be all about heart and imposing our will on them," Fever forward Ebony Hoffman said. "And not letting them get off the jump with hitting us first.

"We're going to hit first."

Yeah, basketball is beautiful and all that, but watching the struggle of two teams trying to impose their will in strategic ways is probably the most exciting element of the playoffs. It's not all brute force -- sometimes it's just finding the right mix to use the opponent's force against them.

Hard foul against Catchings serves as a catalyst for Fever | IndyStar.com | The Indianapolis Star
After Tamika Catchings was knocked to the floor late in the third quarter, hurting her already sore neck, the Fever retaliated. The counter-punch was more surgical than physical. January immediately came off the bench and scored all of her 12 points in a span of 3 1/2minutes. Her 3-pointer pushed the Fever ahead 52-50, and they never trailed again. "She never ceases to amaze me," Catchings said.

But lest we forget about Indiana's balance, they will have to defend Detroit's stars as well if they want to win this series and head to the WNBA finals.

Bob Kravitz: Kravitz: How does a free game sound? | IndyStar.com | The Indianapolis Star
Another key will be keeping Detroit's two brilliant perimeter scorers, Deanna Nolan and Shavonte Zellous, under reasonable control. The Fever double teamed both players, harassed them all over the court, and while the pair scored 42 of Detroit's 75 points, they were just 13-of-39 from the field. One other key: Rookie point guard Briann January has to get major minutes after her starring cameo Friday night. Veteran Tully Bevilaqua has had a terrific season, but January has an offensive presence that makes opponents play the Fever five-on-five. And there's no telling how a back-to-back will wear on a 37-year-old player's legs.

While people are focusing on January's offense in last night's game, she wasn't named Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year for nothing...and she'll have to show off some of that ability to help the Fever win.

Indiana employed a strategy of double teaming Shock guards Deanna Nolan and Shavonte Zellous whenever they got the ball, especially if they got it in the corner or along the sidelines. While it contained the two guards, I'm not sure it really stopped them. It probably was the reason for so many turnovers as the Shock looked almost completely out of sorts at times after jumping out to an 8-2 lead at the start of the game.

Shock falls to Fever, who force decisive Game 3 | Detroit Free Press | Freep.com
Detroit coach Rick Mahorn didn’t like the way his team closed the game. "It doesn’t feel good to lose," he said. "We’re going to watch film and make adjustments." Indiana set a postseason record with 18 steals and scored 28 points off Detroit’s 24 turnovers. The defensive effort made up for Detroit’s 48-37 rebounding edge. "Turnovers hurt us," Nolan said. "We live and die by turnovers, and you saw the results. We were not patient enough."

However, it's not as though the Fever dominated the game. They were down 50-48 when Catchings went down. That's what made their finish -- including January's performance -- so impressive. Despite the turnovers and as a result of their dominance on the boards, Detroit was in control of this game for long stretches of time.

This is why January is so valuable.

You probably can't really hope to contain Nolan, much less stop her, unless she's just too hampered by injuries to perform. But Zellous is still erratic at times and occasionally gets a little overzealous at times. There aren't many people who are capable of staying with Zellous, but January has both the size and speed to bother Zellous just enough to take her out of her game. At times when there was no double team, January is probably the best person on the roster to stay with Zellous.

From Detroit's perspective, they too will have to control Zellous and just make sure she doesn't try to force things too much. With Nolan struggling to get going in the first half and the Fever swarming the ball, Zellous showed that she is still a rookie just by either playing with the ball too much or trying to split double teams and taking difficult contested shots.

There was a point when it was clear that the Shock were trying to exploit the matchup of Tully Bevilaqua on Zellous -- Bevilaqua, as good a defender as she is, is hard pressed to stay with Zellous on every play -- but it started to take away from the rhythm of Detroit's offense...which mostly means getting the ball in Nolan's hands.

It reminds me of a comment from Phoenix Mercury coach Corey Gaines about how sometimes focusing on exploiting a mismatch can actually take a team out of its game entirely. When the Shock got back in gear, it was partially due to rebounding, but partially due to Zellous not trying to do too much.

In any event, tonight's game should be as exciting if not more and there should be fans there with NBA Legend and Indiana Pacers President Larry Bird giving out free tickets.

1070 The Fan - Indy's Sportscenter
"I am so proud of the Fever, who are now one game away from the WNBA Finals," said Bird. "I want all the fans to come to the game and get behind this team for the biggest game in Fever history. So, bring the whole family and the balcony tickets are on me."

That serves as a nice (and much more credible) counter-balance to Jamie Samuelson's "opinion piece" in the Detroit Free Press.

Sort of a response to a hater...but more a thought about  how we talk about women's basketball...

Lack of Shock interest is not sexist, men are just better athletes | Detroit Free Press | Freep.com
Some liars tried to sell us on the fact that women play a more pure game of basketball. That was a complete fabrication.

So I'm not going to attack that article -- clearly, as Mechelle Voepel wrote in December, there is no point in wasting energy or worrying about people who are that rigid in their opinions.

However, while I won't address the article, I do want to address WNBA fans who might say the game is more pure: people probably do need to selling women's basketball on the basis "that women play a more pure game of basketball."

"Purity" is obviously a loaded term that assumes a lot and is essentially telling NBA fans that their basketball is a lesser form of the game...when that is what they and millions of others around the world seem to enjoy (myself included). There are people for whom dunking = purity. In other words, every sport evolves over times so notions of purity are problematic.

What the WNBA is is a pleasant variation of the men's game, with more versatile players and blurry positional functions. I happen to like that type of basketball -- it makes for more points of attacks when skills are not quite as positionally siloed. Earlier this season, Shoals wrote, "It also reminded me quite a bit of the NBA of the 1960s, at least in the non-differentiated guard and forward positions, emphasis on movement and cutting, and varied offensive sets. Maybe it wasn't by accident that Bill Russell was at the game that night."

The WNBA is just good, hard fought basketball. Going the extra step and saying it's "more pure" doesn't really help anything. As Rick Mahorn has learned, professional athletes are professional athletes, although I did find his comment about coaching women intriguing.

Once a ‘Bad Boy,’ Detroit Shock’s Rick Mahorn Becomes a Father Figure - NYTimes.com
Mahorn has learned professional athletes are professional athletes, no matter their gender. They are essentially the same, except "women are more detailed," he said. "When you draw up a play, they’ll go out and execute that play to the nth detail," he said. "As a coach, it’s very rewarding."

Having never coached  WNBA  basketball, I  cannot comment on Mahorn's assertion...but it is interesting nonetheless.

And hey, if you have friends who watch the NBA, then there is an especially simple way to see them on watching the WNBA playoffs right now -- the refs! They need to get ready!

1070 The Fan - Indy's Sportscenter
You see, based on what I saw the other night in Detroit for the Shock-Fever game one and what I saw Friday in game 2....his WNBA officials are brutal. "Terrible" as Charles Barkley would say. El Stinko! And guess what??? They may be doing the Pacers-Pistons games this winter!!! If they can't keep up with the girls' pace, how the heck are they gonna work oh say, Lakers-Cavs? But that is the plan.

In any event, those of us interested in the WNBA need to just keep giving feedback to people covering the sport at the highest levels of sports journalism (e.g. ESPN) so the sport can continue to grow. If you are spending the time to write hate mail to people like Jamie Samuelson, then sending glowing reviews to editors in Briston, CT is probably a better use of time.

Off to Phoenix " Mechelle Voepel
That said, when I got the call Thursday morning from my editor that someone (or multiple someones) in Bristol decided I should go to Phoenix, I was really pleased. Because it meant that with all that is going on in the sports world that, quite frankly, gets far more readership than what I cover, there was still recognition that the story lines involving Leslie, Parker, Taurasi and their teams were worthwhile of attention. I’m explaining all this because I think it’s important for readers to know that their feedback really is crucial. Coverage of women’s sports isn’t a given, folks. It never was, and the way things have been going economically, it has become more imperiled (at least from the standpoint of writers.)