Detroit 75, New York 73
YPSILANTI, Mich., Sept. 29 (AP) -- Taj McWilliams-Franklin isn't used to being a role player. She couldn't be enjoying it more.
McWilliams-Franklin scored 15 of her 19 points in the second half to help the Detroit Shock reach the WNBA finals for the third straight season with a 75-73 win Monday night over the New York Liberty.
"For the past couple years, I've been on young teams where I've been expected to be the leader for a lot of young players,'' she said. "It's been a nice change to be on a team where I'm just one of the veterans - where I have so many great players surrounding me.''
Detroit acquired the 37-year-old McWilliams-Franklin from the Washington Mystics during the Olympic break after losing All-Star Cheryl Ford to a season-ending knee injury.
"Taj is damn near the oldest player in the league, and there she was making plays for us down the stretch,'' Detroit coach Bill Laimbeer said. "She's a very smart player. She isn't quick, and she doesn't jump very high, but she knows how to play basketball.''
The Shock won the best-of-three Eastern Conference finals and advanced to play San Antonio for the championship. Detroit beat Sacramento in 2006 for its second league title, then lost in five games to Phoenix last year.
"This is where we expect to be every season,'' Laimbeer said. "We start every year with the goal of making it to the finals, and that's what we talk about all season. To win the title, you have to get to the finals.''
Liberty coach Pat Coyle skipped the post-game press conference and declined a request for an interview.
The Shock led by 20 in the first half, but had to fight off the deeper Liberty in the second half. Sixth woman Plenette Pierson, who played well in Sunday's Game 2 just seven days after dislocating her shoulder, was limited to two points in six minutes on Monday.
"I knew that Plenette wasn't going to be able to do much, so I got her out of there,'' Laimbeer said. "Hopefully, she'll be able to help us in the finals.''
Both games were played on the campus of Eastern Michigan University because of scheduling conflicts at the Palace of Auburn Hills - about an hour's drive away. Detroit will also play at least one finals game at Eastern.
Leilani Mitchell started New York's comeback with 12 points in the third quarter, but played less than three minutes in the final period.
"We were trying to keep the pressure on, so we were rotating our players,'' she said. "I knew we needed to score some points in the third, and my teammates were doing a great job of setting screens and getting me the ball.''
Cathrine Kraayeveld missed two free throws with 2:42 remaining that could have again got the Liberty two points away, and Nolan hit a jumper at the other end to make it a six-point game. Detroit had a chance to put the game away from the line, but two misses by Hornbuckle with 17 seconds left gave New York a chance, trailing 75-71.
The Liberty missed two 3-pointers, before McWilliams-Franklin fouled Shameka Christon with 0.8 seconds left. Christon made both free throws, cutting Detroit's deficit to two, but the Shock ran out the clock.
"It's hard to maintain a lead in this league - we knew that team was good to run them out of the gym,'' said Katie Smith, who scored 16. "But this team is full of players who are willing to do anything to win a game, and that's what we did in the fourth quarter tonight.''
Janel McCarville led New York with 21.
"Last year, Detroit beat us in the first round, and this year, we got to the conference finals, so that's progress,'' McCarville said. "We took the best team in the league to the end of Game 3, and that's something good.''