Experts: Cash could be deciding factor in WNBA Finals

Before Detroit and Sacramento tip off the WNBA Finals on Wednesday (ESPN2, 7:30 p.m. ET), ESPN.com's experts identified the biggest X-factor heading into the series:

Nancy LiebermanESPN analyst Nancy Lieberman

Prediction: Detroit in five games.

X-factor: Detroit's Swin Cash.

In 2003, when Detroit won the WNBA title, Cash led the way. She played at an MVP level, then helped the U.S. women win gold at the Athens Olympics in 2004. Some even said she was the future of the game as Cash's work ethic was compared to the intensity only Tamika Catchings has demonstrated.

But then in September 2004, Cash suffered a torn ACL. And as for most athletes, the fight to return to her pre-injury form has been a long journey. But on Sunday in Game 3, Cash looked like her old self for the first time. From the opening tip, she was aggressive and played with a confidence and energy we haven't seen from her in some time, finishing with 16 points on 7-for-14 shooting.

There's no stopping Cash if she plays the way she did Sunday. And whether she matches up against Sacramento's Nicole Powell or DeMya Walker, Cash is the better defender in either scenario. She's also better in the open court and a more mature defender.

However, let's not forget that before Sunday, Cash was just 11-for-34 (32 percent) from the field and averaging 7.3 points in the postseason. Can she continue her tear? Or will the same player who averaged a paltry 6.5 ppg against Sacramento this season reappear?

Graham HaysESPN.com's Graham Hays

Prediction: Sacramento in five games.

X-factor: Detroit's Swin Cash vs. Sacramento's DeMya Walker.

It wouldn't be difficult to find people to suggest Cash and Walker are the most talented players on their respective teams, but neither has played like it in the first two rounds.

Walker, still on her way back from maternity leave that led her to miss the first half of the regular season, was sharp in the first round against Houston but faded in the conference finals as Yolanda Griffith, Nicole Powell and Kara Lawson carried the day. Walker didn't have a standout WNBA Finals performance last season on the way to the title, but she has the blend of inside-outside post skills that could help extend Detroit's interior defense and potentially get the Shock in foul trouble.

For her part, Cash needs to play like the player who established the tempo early in Game 3 of the conference finals and not like the player who appeared frustrated and out of sync in the first two games of the series. Lest we forget, it was Cash who led the Shock in scoring during the 2003 postseason that eventually resulted in a title.

If either player can take over a game, or at least provide consistent production throughout the series, it could turn the tide.

Graham HaysESPN.com's Mechelle Voepel

Prediction: Sacramento in four games.


Detroit: Swin Cash. Sunday in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals, Mohegan Sun Arena looked like Gampel Pavilion in the Swin Cash Glory Days at UConn. Since injuring her knee at the end of the 2004 season, Cash has struggled to be the consistent force that she was before. Yet Cash can still be a game-changer. And if she's playing at that level, it makes it so hard on opposing defenses to try to control Detroit's offense.

Sacramento: Rebekkah Brunson. Against Detroit's imposing frontline, the Monarchs are going to need help off their bench. Brunson is known for her rebounding and defense, and she'll have to provide that. But she'll also need to make sure she finishes any stick-back opportunities and works to give herself looks inside.