Liberty Rout Shock in Series Opener
There have been historic and legendary playoff basketball performances at Madison Square Garden, ranging from Willis Reed's Game 7 heroics to Larry Johnson's four-point play.
On Friday night, Shameka Christon authored a WNBA version of such an evening -- leading the way in the Liberty's dominating 73-51 victory over the defending champion Detroit Shock in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference opening-round playoff series.
The athletic forward finished the night with 16 points and 15 rebounds along with three assists and one steal, and she spearheaded a key 18-0 run early in the third quarter which saw the Liberty overcome a brief Shock lead to blow the game wide open.
Christon's 15 rebounds tied Tari Phillips' all-time Liberty franchise playoff record.
"I thought it might have been the best I have seen (Christon) play since she has been here," Liberty Head Coach Pat Coyle said after the upset victory. "She was unbelievable tonight. She did a real good job of playing within herself and doing what she is capable of doing."
Christon herself agreed that she was in the zone all night.
"All my teammates and coaches ask of me is to play hard and go rebound," she said. "Tonight I definitely made it a point to go do that. We were just out there to play hard and focus on the things that we do really well, and on the little things that have made us really successful."
Liberty rookie Shay Doron was in awe of her teammate's performance.
"When we were in the middle of that 18-0 run, I really couldn't believe what I saw from Shameka," said Doron. "On the bench, we were counting out her rebounds and couldn't believe what we were seeing. She was just amazing."
The lopsided win marked the Liberty's largest margin of victory in a playoff game in their 11-year history, topping the previous record of 21. It was also New York first postseason win since beating Detroit 66-64 at The Garden in Game 3 of another first round match up on Sept. 28, 2004.
Facing off against the defending WNBA champs who finished the regular season with the best record, the Liberty took the court with the mantra "Don't Mess With Cinderella" blasting throughout the arena. Fittingly, they played with hustle and heart from the opening tip-off, led by Janel McCarville, who was named the WNBA's Most Improved Player in a pregame ceremony.
In the opening quarter, McCarville recorded four points and four boards along with one vicious steal along the defensive baseline. Her infectious play got the home-crowd court into the game, making the 9,976 Liberty fanatics believe they had a shot at the upset. New York finished the first quarter with a 14-9 lead.
As Detroit Head Coach Bill Lambier paced the sidelines screaming at his team, Ashley Battle hit a clutch running jumper as the 24 second clock expired on New York's first possession, frustrating the former Piston.
"We didn't play basketball," Laimbeer said after the game. "We didn't want it, basically. New York definitely wanted it more than us, but we didn't want it at all. That was discouraging. We lacked the desire to compete. As a ball club we were not cohesive. That is something we need to find in the next day and half. If they do, we'll be fine. If we don't, then it's an early exit.
"New York played hard. They displayed a hard-nosed basketball game like how you are supposed to in the playoffs. We came to play a basketball game, and a poor one if that. We deserved to lose and there are no ifs, ands, or maybes about it. We played dysfunctionally offensively and defensively."
As the first half came to a close, the Shock seemed to draw fire from their head coach and went on a 12-5 run. When the halftime buzzer sounded, the scored was tied at 25 apiece.
"By holding them to 25 (at the half)," Coyle said, "I thought we did the things we needed to do. We tried limited their transition points, we tried to rebound with them and take care of the ball ourselves. I thought if we could do those three tings, we would have a shot."
After Cathrine Kraayeveld put the Liberty up 27-25 to start the second half, Detroit scored the next two baskets to give them a brief 29-27 lead. After that, it was all Liberty as New York went on their 18-0 run.
After a pair of free throws from Kraayeveld, Erin Thorn and Loree Moore nailed back-to-back three pointers. Kraayeveld then followed up with a three-point play after being fouled on her way to the basket. Christon hit another clutch three pointer, and after a bunch of free throws the Liberty were in the midst of a 15-0 run.
With Detroit desperate for points, they pushed the ball down the court and went in for an easy lay-up, only to have Kraayeveld block it viciously down the court. More impressive, the 6-foot-4 forward ran with a head of steam back down to the offensive end caught a pass from the corner and swished a deep three to push the Liberty run to 18-0.
"I thought in the third quarter, when they played some zone, we hit some threes and it opened it up for us," said Coyle. "I thought we did a good job. We were not scoring, but neither were they. We were coming down the other end and getting some stops. I'm proud of our team, I thought we did a good job of executing our game plan."
As New York ran back on defense, Knicks star guard Stephon Marbury stood out of his seat under the basket, cheering the women on along with the rest of Madison Square Garden.
"There were points when I looked up (at the scoreboard) but I let it go in one ear and out the other," said McCarville. "I did not let it faze me because I knew we had a lot more to do and did not want to let it get away from us. We did not want them to build any momentum or go on a run. Patty (Coyle) preaches execution, and that is basically what we did. We were able to limit our turnovers and get the shots we wanted."
The Shock caught fire towards the end of the third quarter and managed to close the gap to 11 points going into the final quarter, trailing 53-42.
After Deanna Nolan hit a jump shot at the onset of the fourth, the Liberty lead was down to just nine points. However, Thorn nailed a clutch three-pointer on New York's next trip down the flow to initiate a 16-0 run. Detroit would not score another point until the game was out of reach with 2:29 left, as the Liberty emptied their bench and played all their reserves.
When the final buzzer sounded, the Liberty players jumped and hugged at center court while the crowd went into a frenzy over what was arguably the most stunningly one-sided upset in WNBA playoff history.
Still, after such a dominating victory, Coyle is not worried her team might be overconfident going into Sunday's second game.
"All we did tonight was what were supposed to do, you have to protect your home floor," said the Liberty head coach. "It is one game, and that is all it is. We will get the tape and make some adjustments. When we go out to Detroit we will tweak some things and do what we need to do."
New York will have a chance to close out the series by winning Game 2 in Detroit on Sunday at 1 p.m. The game will be televised nationally on ABC.