Indiana/Atlanta Preview for Eastern Conference Finals 2011
1. Defend Atlanta’s transition game and “lane game”. Make Atlanta hit contested jump shots.
Indiana cannot allow Atlanta to make the outlet pass to midcourt. Atlanta advances the ball like a good transition team would off the glass. Make Point Guard Lindsay Harding come back to receive the outlet so she is not playing downhill in transition. One on One Defense has to be solid to keep Atlanta out of the lane. No middle drives, no penetrating passes.
2. Score with post players.
Indiana must score in post-up game. If Sutton-Brown runs the floor hard, there’s an early offense option inside and it creates lanes and angles to score off the bounce in primary transition. Davenport must demand a double team. She has to be effective in forcing Atlanta to rotate/dig/double/trap the post so spacing around the lane changes I don’t expect Atlanta to start with a double on the block forcing Sutton-Brown and Davenport to hit tough 2pt baskets.
3. Phillips/Bobbitt/Douglas must read and react quickly in the 2-man game. They have read how Atlanta is playing defense in the 2-man. And, it will change during the game so they have to be able to adjust. Got to read second level of defense. Katie Douglas did an excellent job exploiting Bales and Paris in the sideline pick n roll (PNR) in Game 4.
4. Control the tempo without controlling the boards: the sideline
Atlanta is a terrific rebounding team and Indiana can be at times. Indiana will challenge Atlanta on the glass but here is a way they can manage tempo of the game at home without winning the battle on the boards . . . SCORE. Indiana has to make Atlanta take the ball out of the net. Indiana has to execute and score with balance. Indiana needs to make Atlanta’s defense rotate so they can create driving lanes and mismatches in their offensive schemes. If Indiana can set their defense and force Atlanta into a jump shooting team, their chances to win at home increase.
5. What to do with Angel McCoughtry?
She’s a great player. Angel is averaging 24 ppg vs. Indiana and 30 ppg in the last 2 meetings. It’s neither Tamika Catching’s job nor Katie Douglas’ job to stop Angel. Angel will not be denied shots in Atlanta’s offense and will get volume shots. Angel doesn’t defer and her team is perfectly ok with that because she is all out, every play and a younger version of Tamika Catching’s relentless effort. Defending Angel is a team defensive job. You have to guard Angel with 1.5 players meaning everyone guards their man and half your attention on Angel. Angel gets to the free throw line better than anyone in the league and Angel is going to the paint to score. Keep her out of the lane, make her hit some jumpers (and she will) make her work on defense; make her work on offense in the ½ court. Be there on the catch with a long close out to contest and contain. Defending Angel is a full time job plus overtime.
Atlanta is longer, younger and very athletic. They have 3 players on defense (Price, McCoughtry, Lyttle) that “shoot-the-gap” with some of the best defenders in the history of the WNBA like Swoopes back in the day and Catchings now. They can score and they are very good defenders off the ball, a trademark of Assistant Coach Carol Ross’ style of D.
Indiana is veteran, smart and savvy. Ball fakes are a stat I’m tracking against a high risk/high reward Atlanta defense! Indiana will have the home crowd and the emotion of a special night in Indy for many reasons including “the” individual award that goes to a very deserving basketball player.
Game planning will be to the detail for Indiana. However, there will be times that they will just play and make plays. Atlanta starts out playing, and then will have possessions they have to execute and run certain sets to expose Indiana. This is going to be a great battle of wills, individual matchups and adjustments for the benches. Atlanta did sweep regular season 4-0. In 3 of the last 7 regular season games, Atlanta played Indiana and was at full strength. So, Indiana knows the team speed, the game planning and what to expect. The average margin of victory in those 4 regular season wins for Atlanta was 6 pts, 2 or 3 possessions.
Last word: Who gets it?
Tamika Catchings. Who would write a preview of the Eastern Conference Finals between Indiana and Atlanta and not start the conversation with Tamika Catchings besides me? Catchings will play and is always a key because you always know what you will get from Tamika. Her heart is bigger than a stat sheet. Her passion is contagious. Her leadership has created a shared vision for the Indiana Fever. You know what you get when #24 steps on the court. Is she key, yes but she knows what chemistry is about and why it’s important. She is a team builder. Last word: Tamika Catchings
Good luck to both teams and I hope all the fans enjoy the playoffs!!!
Debbie Antonelli is one of the nation's most esteemed women's basketball analysts averaging 80 college basketball games a season, while working in the top five women's basketball conferences. She is widely considered an expert on women's basketball, both collegiate and professional.