Shock and Monarchs To Settle Series In Heart Of Detroit
Game Five Goes Downtown
After a back-and-forth series where each team has won on the road, the Detroit Shock and Sacramento Monarchs are back in Detroit for a decisive Game Five of the 2006 WNBA Finals. The WNBA's 10th anniversary season finale tips off on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. ET on ESPN 2.
Excluding the WNBA's inaugural season, when the championship was determined in a one game Final, the WNBA Finals have only been taken to the limit four times in the league's 10 year history. The home team has won the deciding game each time with the most recent time occuring in 2004 when the Seattle Storm defeated the Connecticut Sun 2-1 in a three game series. Tomorrow's Game Five is the first ever in league history.The 2006 Finals have been a seesaw affair, but each trip has followed virtually the same pattern. Sacramento took the first game in each city in blowout fashion, winning Game 1 on the road by a 95-71 margin and Game 3 at the ARCO Arena by a score of 89-69. The Monarchs enjoyed an offensive explosion in Game 1, setting a WNBA Finals record for points, and their reserves outscored the Detroit bench 42-17 in Game 3. However, Sacramento has twice failed to capitalize on their momentum by allowing Detroit to tie the series twice.
Detroit has rebounded with dominating defensive efforts in the second half of both of their victories. The Shock trailed by nine at halftime of Game 2, but shut down the Monarchs in the second half and pulled away for a 73-63 victory behind 17 second half points from Katie Smith. In Sacramento, Detroit avoided elimination against the longest of odds in Game 4, extending the series with a decisive 72-52 victory that snapped an 11-game playoff home winning streak for the Monarchs.
"A couple blowouts here or there," said Detroit coach Bill Laimbeer on the nature of the series. "Itís one of those series where one team gets the upper hand and puts the pedal down and makes a move and wins a game easily. They are all hard fought games. Itís just a matter of being able to execute and getting the rebounds."
Sacramento guard Kara Lawson echoes the same thoughts. "It's a series, you win some games in a series, you lose some. It's all about how you respond in a series. Both teams have shown the ability to respond in a series because we have gone every other game. I'm hoping that trend continues."
Now the series is back in Detroit for the fifth and decisive game, but will be played at an unfamiliar arena. Due to a scheduling conflict at the Palace of Auburn Hills, Saturday's game will be played at Joe Louis Arena in downtown Detroit. However, players and coaches don't seem to be concerned about the change of location. In fact, the Detroit Shock players and coaches are expecting the arena to sell out for Saturday's game. Detroit coach Bill Laimbeer doesn't feel that the Joe Louis Arena will have a negative effect on the Shock. He feels that perhaps their home-court advantage can be enhanced by the new venue.
"No, I donít think so. Itís our floor, itís our fans, itís our chairs," said Laimbeer. "It wonít make any difference [to us]. All I know is that there are going to be 19,000 people here screaming and yelling for us. I expect the building to sell out."The Shock's players are excited about being back in Detroit no matter what the location. "We're not on our home court, but we're still on our home court," Deanna Nolan said. "We've played there before in a playoff game. It's in the city now, so we're going to have more urbanites, as you call it, and more people there."
"It's going to be a little weird for both teams, but it's still basketball," said Cheryl Ford. "We're still home in Detroit with our fans, so it should be great. I heard that the game is going to be sold out."
"This crowd is gonna be rocking," added Swin Cash. "I guarantee you that the city of Detroit, having this opportunity after the Super Bowl, everyone is excited to be coming here and view another championship."
The Monarchs have similiar feelings about the venue, stressing that they are more focused on what will go on on the court, rather than where it is located. The Monarchs' Yolanda Griffith expects a true playoff feel for Saturday's game.
"I'm expecting a great atmosphere tomorrow, the Detroit fans are great and want to see the Shock win another championship, but we have to make it happen for us."
If the first four games are any indication, there really is no telling what can happen on Saturday afternoon. Both teams have the confidence that they can beat their opponents, as each have enjoyed blowout victories in the series. Most players feel that what can separate the teams comes down to the mental aspect, rather than physical talent. The teams seem to be that closely matched, and there is little that they don't already know about each other after four games in a little over a week.
"Effort has determined all four games,"says Lawson. "That's the only factor, in my eyes. They wanted (Game 4) a little bit more, apparently. We have to get that desire back."
"Yes, it always comes down to mental toughness, will, desire and who wants it more," says Laimbeer. "We know each other. They know us and we know them. There are no secrets and there is nothing new."
Whatever the outcome, the stage is set for what could be the biggest game in WNBA history. What was a best of five series now comes down to one game. Both teams are ready to stop talking and settle the series on the court in Detroit.
"Do or die," says Swin Cash. "My whole thinking is that itís like the NCAA tournament; one and done. I think weíve worked really hard to get to this point."
"We're fired up, and we're ready to go," said Monarchs forward Erin Buescher. "We're gonna give it our best shot."