After going more than two weeks without a win, the Detroit Shock have recaptured the form that led them to last year's WNBA championship and the best regular-season record in the league this season.
To continue their title defense, however, the Shock will have to beat a New York Liberty team that has given them trouble this year.
The Shock and Liberty square off in a deciding Game 3 in Detroit on Tuesday for the right to advance to the Eastern Conference finals.
Detroit clinched home-court advantage throughout the playoffs by beating Indiana on Aug. 11. While resting some of their key players for the playoffs, however, the Shock went on to lose their last four games of the regular season - beginning with an 85-84 defeat at New York on Aug. 12.
The Shock didn't recover in the playoff series opener, falling 73-51 at Madison Square Garden to extend their losing streak to five games - their longest since opening the 2002 season with 13 consecutive defeats. It was Detroit's largest margin of defeat since the opening game of the WNBA finals against Sacramento last Aug. 30.
Detroit, though, finally bounced back with a 76-73 win in Game 2 on Sunday, avoiding elimination. Cheryl Ford started for the first time since July 20 and made a go-ahead layup with 44 seconds remaining to lead the Shock.
"I told our players that at some point in this game, 'Your heart will be severely tested' - and it was," coach Bill Laimbeer said. "We got down to a point where it was an even ballgame, last minute and our season was on the line. But we made the right plays when we had to make the right plays."
Ford, who missed the last month of the season with a knee injury, said her knee felt fine despite the physical nature of the game.
"It's cool though. It's what it's all about. Playoff time," Ford told the Shock's official Web site after finishing with 11 points and 10 rebounds. "I love to bang so you're going to get some bumps and bruises here and there. You just got to keep playing."
Detroit could use another strong contribution from Ford to eliminate the Liberty, who have split six games with the Shock this year, including the postseason. Two of those games went to overtime and two others were decided by three points or fewer.
New York hopes to build on Sunday's strong second half. The Liberty trailed by as many as 17 points, but rallied to tie the game in the final minutes.
"We did what we've been doing all year - we fight back, we fight back and we give ourselves a chance," coach Pat Coyle said.
New York has lost both of its playoff series since ousting Detroit in the first round in 2004.
The Shock, on the other hand, are looking to win their fourth straight series. They have won five of six playoff games at The Palace of Auburn Hills over the last two seasons.
"(The Liberty) had their chance to win the series - we could not win the series today," Laimbeer said Sunday. "We had to stave off elimination to get that chance to win the series. Now, it's our turn to win the series."