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Detroit's experience, talent stymie Silver Stars' comeback

SAN ANTONIO -- Taj McWilliams-Franklin didn't have her voice all day. She might have wanted to pass on that ailment to her coach, Bill Laimbeer.

Just kidding. Well, sort of. At least it might have been good for the big guy to zip it at one key moment in the fourth quarter, where a game in which Detroit was pulling away turned into one where the Shock had to pull it out of the fire.

Detroit did that, though, taking Game 1 of the WNBA Finals 77-69 over San Antonio on Wednesday. It was that close because of a technical on Laimbeer that seemed to spark the Silver Stars. They went from trailing by 14 points at the time of the T -- with 7 minutes, 33 seconds left -- to tied with 2:16 remaining.

But in those crucial last couple of minutes, Detroit didn't allow another basket and made the big plays a team with this much postseason experience needs to make.

The Shock's two "old-timers" -- McWilliams-Franklin and Katie Smith -- were the catalysts from a scoring standpoint, while Deanna Nolan set the tone on defense and commanded so much attention on offense that the rest of the Shock benefited.

McWilliams-Franklin will be 38 later this month, but she was in prime-of-her-career form Wednesday with 24 points and seven rebounds. And Smith, who turned 34 in June, showed that when the situation calls for it, she can still be one of the most reliable and fearless shooters in the sport. She had 25 points -- a career-high for her in a WNBA playoff game -- and also led the Shock with nine rebounds.

"Katie Smith was huge," Laimbeer said. "Her will pushed us a long way. Taj was phenomenal."

Nolan, meanwhile, was focused on bottling up San Antonio guard Becky Hammon, which was an effective tactic for the first three quarters. Nolan also didn't try to force any of her own offense, but still finished with 10 points.

"She created a lot of things for us tonight," Smith said of Nolan. "It's the worry she presents. Whether she was making a hard cut or a pass, she draws so many people."

The Shock have won two WNBA titles and were runner-up last year. Detroit is playing for the championship for the third consecutive season. League president Donna Orender called the Shock a dynasty before the game.

But you could have referred to Detroit as "Dynasty" a few times in the past, such as when Swin Cash and Laimbeer were having their soap-opera-like jousts. Cash is gone now, though, while Detroit is competing to win it all again. And there seems to be more of a unified and even-keel feeling on this team, relative to some other Shock squads.

Even without posts Cheryl Ford, who has been sidelined with a knee injury since July, and Plenette Pierson, whose ailing right shoulder was in a sling Wednesday, Laimbeer led his team to a tough road win.

The technical? Well, he definitely wasn't trying to get one. He said he just boiled over after a few calls he thought were missed, the last one being what he was sure was a 3-second violation by the Silver Stars.

He wasn't the only one who was boiling, though. The refs were, too, after hearing their standard high-decibel chatter from Laimbeer all night.

"Now, did I deserve a technical? Yeah," he said. "I can't jump around, all hysterical and make everybody look bad."

Um … he can't? Since when? Laimbeer is always his own one-man show on the sidelines, but there's nothing insincere about it. It's just his personality.

That said, sometimes, like all coaches, he is more calculated than others. This time, though, he was just worked up over the game.

Smith said that she didn't have any problem with that because it just means Laimbeer is really passionate about what's going on. Besides, maybe the Silver Stars' rally gave the Shock an added bonus: Detroit didn't just win the game, but it did so in adverse conditions where it might have been easy for the Shock to crumble.

"I believe in our team," Laimbeer said, and the players really gave him reason to in Game 1. It's a group far from full strength health-wise, but it's getting big plays from those who are expected to provide them and important minutes from role players/rookies.

San Antonio had two fantastic finishes on its home court in the Western Conference finals against Los Angeles. This game, the finish was frenetic but not quite good enough.

The hole that the Silver Stars put themselves in during the second quarter -- when they were outscored 27-14 -- was too much to overcome.

"It's disappointing to come out and lack energy in a game like that," said Hammon, who finished with 13 points but made just 4-for-10 shots from the field, including missing all three of her 3-point attempts. "There's just no excuse for that. You can't do that against quality teams. Every mistake we made, they capitalized on."

McWilliams-Franklin especially took advantage of virtually every opening she had against the Silver Stars. Her voice was just a whisper all day, and she was dealing with asthma during and after the game that clearly left her in a lot of discomfort.

Still, she played at a high level throughout and took one step closer to what would be the crowning achievement of a great career.

She was not with Detroit when it faced San Antonio in two regular-season games, both of which the Silver Stars won. But as soon as she joined the Shock, she fit in.

"They have made it great," McWilliams-Franklin said about her teammates. "They let me do what I do best."

Wednesday, that was pretty much everything.

Mechelle Voepel of The Kansas City Star is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. She can be reached at mvoepel123@yahoo.com.