Flying below the radar: Lawson gets it doneAugust 25, 2012
UNCASVILLE CT—Healthy for the first time in years, Kara Lawson set as a pre-season goal for herself to be the best point guard in the WNBA.
How do you measure that?
Certainly some at that position, Sue Bird, Lindsey Whalen, for example, are more visible – their 2012 London Olympic participation a symbol of that.
But for Lawson, whose contract with the Connecticut Sun was renewed earlier this week for three more years, isn’t concerned with that kind of stardom.
“In this league, in this game, certain styles don’t translate to accolades,” she said. “But certain styles do translate to wins. I just want to win for my team.”
This was never more evident than Tuesday night when a tough, competitive Tulsa Shock team forced the Eastern Conference leading Sun into overtime and it appeared a home loss was in the cards. But in the final seconds, left unguarded in the corner, Lawson stepped up like a surgeon with nerves of steel and with calm and precision, canned a three-point shot to win the game.
After the game Lawson played the shot down – indicating she was just doing her job and rightfully crediting Tina Charles’ quick thinking to pass to her when the defense collapsed on the forward in the lane.
The methodical method with which Lawson changes the course of games for the Sun is the kind of work that will feed her pre-season goal.
Repeatedly against the Shock, she made big shots that kept the Sun in the game. In the second quarter, her team trailing by a point, Lawson’s three-pointer put the Sun up a point and then a two-point shot tied the game after the Shock had scored.
As the quarter wound down, she hit for five more points to give the Sun a 38-30 lead, their largest margin of the game. She had 10 points in both the first and second quarters and was game high scorer with 19 points.
Against the New York Liberty two days earlier, she had 21. She has been key in several overtime games, the most notable June 19 when the Sun beat the Indiana Fever in overtime. She had a total of 22 points and was 8 for 8 from the line. On July 7, at Minnesota, Lawson had a double double, which led to the unlikely Sun 86-80 victory against the defending WNBA champs.
With teams increasingly doubling down on Charles, Lawson’s shooting becomes more vital.
“Kara Lawson has no fear,” said Sun head coach Mike Thibault “Great players want to take big shots. They’re not afraid and if they miss one, they take the next shot.”
If she had missed that shot, she would have been mad but she would have taken another one if the opportunity presented itself, he said.
Thibault said Lawson, w”ho did not make the 2012 Olympic team, is a better player than when she played in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, when he was an assistant coach. In the Gold Medal game against Australia, she had a team high 15 points off the bench and averaged 3 assists for the tournament.
“She’s a better ball handler and her defense is better,” Thibault said. “All (a player’s) mental and physical skills converge and peak after 3 or 4 years, he said. “She’s at that time in her career.”
Her confidence then filters down to her teammates...”others take that attitude and they have confidence in you.”
“You have to have a chip on your shoulder, an edge, a confidence level as point guard” said Lawson.
Lawson, 31, said she doesn’t feel like she’s playing like someone three years older than when she first signed with the Sun.
Lawson said her season is going so well (she is second to Charles in points with an 14.7 a game and leads the team in assists with 3.8 a game) because she is completely healthy and is finally playing her natural position of point guard.” I was on an upward trend in 07 and 08 (she was with the now defunct Sacramento Monarchs those years) and then injuries hit me. I don’t like to use that as an excuse but I knew I was less than 100 percent.
In Sacramento she played behind Ticha Penicheiro, who was named to the WNBA’s all-decade team in 2008.
Her next two years were subpar because of shoulder and other injuries. She signed as an unrestricted free agent with the Sun in February 2010 – was again limited by injuries – but last year started to regain her own form and averaged 10.4 points and 2.9 assists primarily coming off the bench.
But now the former Tennessee all-American is playing better than in the history of her decade in the pro league.
“Kara has proven to everyone why we brought her here,” said Thibault. He praised her veteran leadership and understanding of the league in addition to her skills on the court. “There is a comfort level that she and I have with each other right now,” he added in a Sun press release on the signing. “It is a really good bond.”
Lawson said she is happy with the Sun organization from top to bottom and also said she is comfortable in the community, which has welcomed her.
She is a Connecticut resident year round; in the off season she works as a women’s basketball analyst for ESPN.
Despite the rigors of her schedule, she finds time to reach out to others. A close colleague of Pat Summitt, her former Tennessee coach who is suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, Before the season, she announced she would donate $50 to the Pat Summitt Foundation for every three-point shot she made. To date that amounts to $2,500; the Sun and other organizations are matching this pledge as well.
On Nov. 3 she plans to run the 5K Dash to the Finish Line in New York to raise money for the Foundation and the next day, Lawson’s husband, Damien Barling, a disc jockey and talent agent, will run the N.Y. Marathon the next day.
Lawson said she speaks to Summitt regularly and said she sounds “normal” to her. She follows the league closely, Lawson said.
Maybe she’ll be following the best point guard in the WNBA (and least visible) through the September playoffs.