Phoenix dominated in paint, suffers first loss in 31 days in Game 1

Mercury Shocked Back to Earth

By Mark Heller,
Sept. 6, 2007

AUBURN HILLS, MICH. - There was no joy in Mercuryville.

Sour feelings hadn’t infected the Mercury locker room in at least 31 days, dating back to the last time they sampled the anguish of defeat in Seattle.

They collectively deemed Wednesday night’s 108-100 loss to Detroit in Game 1 of the WNBA Finals little more than a two-hour, done-and-gone basketball blip.

If so, it came and went with a wallop.

It was a struggle from the start. Diana Taurasi’s fouls rendered her a nonfactor, and the Mercury couldn’t find a third scorer to help All-Stars Cappie Pondexter and Penny Taylor.

Or anyone to stop the Shock.

An ongoing knee injury left Detroit without double-double machine Cheryl Ford inside, but Kara Braxton and Plenette Pierson — who, for one night, made the Mercury wish they hadn’t traded her two years ago — were too big and too quick to contain.

Detroit had one day between series. The Mercury had three. But the defending champions racked up 48 rebounds (nearly one-third were offensive), 20 more free-throw attempts, 50 points in the paint and a 38-point advantage off the bench.

Put it all together, and Paul Westhead’s squad missed a golden chance to swipe an early series lead

. They have two days of stewing and scheming before Saturday’s Game 2 at The Palace of Auburn Hills, a gottahave-it game before the bestof-five series swings back to Phoenix.

“We’re a tough team,” Taurasi said. “This isn’t going to put us in the dumpster.”

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Detroit has earned its stripes with size and physicality, the antithesis of what Phoenix is all about. The Mercury appeared flustered at times with the officiating, and the Shock’s body and mind games turned into frustration late, when Pondexter and Detroit’s Deanna Nolan went at it physically (briefly) and verbally in the fourth quarter. Both were given technical fouls. Both needed an intervention between them.

“I don’t know. It’s done. No need to talk about it anymore,” Pondexter said.

The same sentiment toward Wednesday’s game was echoed in the locker room.

Taurasi was forced to watch half of the game from the bench. Taylor (32 points, nine rebounds, seven assists) and Pondexter (27 points, four rebounds, five assists) were superheroes just to keep Phoenix hanging around, but periods of resistance on the other end were too few and far between. The Shock shot 48 percent and set a WNBA Finals record for points (Phoenix is now second).

Braxton (19 points, 12 rebounds) and Pierson (26 points, 10 rebounds) stole the show. Braxton showed a midrange shooting touch and used her wide body inside to shield out the smaller Taylor, Tangela Smith and Kelly Schumacher. Across the floor, Pierson drove to the basket, drew fouls and hit the boards.

“I told our troops that we haven’t done anything yet,” Shock coach Bill Laimbeer said. “We have done what we’re supposed to do, win our home games.”

Thanks to its offense, Phoenix clung to hope until the game’s final minute. Twice before, the Mercury came back from a double-digit deficit, but for once in the past month, short-handed and undersized didn’t work.

“The locker room atmosphere was a little different,” Westhead said. “Yeah, they were kind of down. It’s been awhile.

“Fortunately, it’s a five-game series.”

COPYRIGHT 2007, EAST VALLEY TRIBUNE. Used with permission.