Detroit's Cheryl Ford talks to members of the media after Friday's practice.
Collin Pierson/NBAE/Getty Images
It’s evident now that playing back-to-back games to help her team close out the Eastern Conference Finals put a strain on the injured left knee of Detroit forward Cheryl Ford. Its worsening condition forced Ford to miss Wednesday’s Game 1 of the 2007 WNBA Finals and on the eve of Saturday’s Game 2, her status remains unclear.
Ford shot around with teammates at practice on Friday, but that was about it. Although, that’s all any Shock player did on the court at their abbreviated session.
While Ford will have had four straight days off before Game 2 commences, the comments of Detroit head coach Bill Laimbeer would lead you to believe that there’s a good chance his superstar forward will be sitting out her second straight Finals game.
“I’m pessimistic at the moment,” said Laimbeer.
Ford didn’t do much to roll back Laimbeer’s statement, saying that if she had to play on it Friday, she wouldn’t be able to. But not all hope is lost.
“It’s sore. Not as sore as it was two days ago, but sore,” said Ford, who hasn’t missed consecutive games since she sat out the last 13 games of the regular season with the same injury that’s plaguing her now.
“I still can’t really push off on it so we’ll see what happens,” added Ford. “It depends on how I feel when I roll out of bed tomorrow.”
Of course, if Ford is able to suit up on Saturday, we likely won’t find out from the Shock until minutes before game time. That was the case Wednesday, even though Ford admitted that the team pretty much knew the day before that she wouldn’t be able to go in Game 1.
Can Kara Carry Over?
The potential for Braxton to be great player has always been there and Wednesday was perhaps the best example yet. Unfortunately, inconsistency has hampered her all season, so an encore preformance is not guaranteed.
Take her games against Phoenix this season. In their first matchup, Braxton totaled 17 points and 12 rebounds before collecting just four points and one rebound in their next clash. That was followed by Braxton’s 19 and 12 on Wednesday.
She also scored in double figures in consecutive games just once during the entire season.
“Everybody talks about consistency with Kara,” said Braxton. “I don’t know (why I have problems with consistency).”
When asked if pressure was the cause, Braxton admitted that there may be something to that.
“Last year it was something because Ruth (Riley) was here and everybody thought I should be starting. So there was pressure,” said Braxton. “This year, I came in and was starting and (Laimbeer) didn’t like some stuff and he put Feenstra in the starting lineup. He took me out and I think he thought I was about to crumble. But I’m a positive person. I love my teammates and I love my team.”
Diana's Foul Play Nothing New
Phoenix's Diana Taurasi scored just 10 points on 3-of-8 shooting in 22 foul-ridden minutes in the opener, but Laimbeer sees that as more of a trend when the teams meet than an aberration.
“She’s been in foul trouble against us because their zone is predicated upon her guarding big players,” said Laimbeer. “And we have very aggressive big players that attack the rim all the time and she gets in foul trouble there. That’s why she hasn’t scored well against us. She patrols the paint for them. It works well against some teams, but against a team like ourselves when we get the ball and we attack the rim, in that spot you get caught in bad predicaments and that’s what happened to her.”
Despite the struggles of Taurasi and Cappie Pondexter, Phoenix reached 100 points in Game 1 and stayed in it until late. But Laimbeer disagreed with the notion that his team was ever in danger of squandering a victory.
“I don’t think they were close to stealing the game,” said Laimbeer. “I thought we had control of it throughout mentally. I think they’re going to score a bunch of points with or without (Taurasi). When she scores, it takes away from somebody else. It’s all about shooting percentage in this series.”
While the Shock were able to limit the effectiveness of Taurasi and Pondexter, Penny Taylor had herself a huge game, totaling 32 points, nine rebounds and seven assists. As a result, Detroit's Deanna Nolan sees help defense on Taylor as the main thing they need to improve upon in Game 2.
“The thing we need to do is to stop Taylor from driving and penetrating,” said Nolan. “Basically it’s what kept them in the game.”
After collecting 26 points and 10 rebounds in the Game 1 victory, Pierson has now posted a double-double in each of the Shock’s three games against Phoenix this season. Over those same three games she has averaged 18 points and 11.7 rebounds, while shooting 54 percent from the field and 89 percent from the line – all in a reserve role.
So why does Pierson do so well against her former team?
“I just do what works well for me, and that’s going the basket and being aggressive,” said Pierson. “They try to stay out of foul trouble because they don’t go deep on their bench, so I exploit that.”
She also causes headaches for Phoenix on the other end of the court.
“(My versatility) helps me to defend them a little better,” added Pierson. “They’re a three-point shooting team, so it helps me out a lot to be able to run around and chase them around.”
Nolan Moving On
One of the main subplots from Wednesday’s Game 1 that still has people talking was the incident between Nolan and Pondexter toward the end of the contest.
It all started after a whistle when Pondexter tried to pull the ball away from Nolan, who refused to give it to the Mercury guard. With the upperhand in the series in the balance and emotions running high, heated words were exchanged and a little shoving took place before the two were separated and given double technical fouls.
“I’m going to move on,” said Nolan. “I don’t know if it’s going to carry over for her. It was just something that happened that didn’t need to happen. Plus, she wasn’t involved in the play. I was going to hand the ball to the ref. There was no need for it.”
What concerns Nolan now is how she’s going to help her team in Game 2. In the opener, Nolan scored 11 points on 3-of-8 shooting, including 2-of-3 from three-point range, with five rebounds and three assists.
“I’m going to look my shots a little more in Game 2 and if I do have an open shot, then take it and hopefully knock it down,” said Nolan. “But I think they’re more aware of where I am in a zone and what I do.”
Paul Ball is Also Bill Ball
Members of the media keep asking Laimbeer how he plans to turn the series into a more grind-it-out, low-scoring battle, and the coach keeps insisting that he doesn’t mind playing uptempo basketball.
“We can play any style of play,” said Laimbeer. “We’ve had some of the highest scoring games in the history of the league until Phoenix started dropping 100 all the time. We can score. We’ve got the athletes that can get up and down and score. It doesn’t bother us. What bothers coaches is if we take bad shots in that environment. We’ll run all day long as long as we go inside, attack the rim and get good mid-range shots.”
– By Mark Bodenrader, WNBA.com
|Coach Paul Westhead instructs his players during Friday's practice.|
|Collin Pierson/NBAE/Getty Images|
Mercury Practice Notes
While the Detroit Shock had a brief shootaround and a half-court gathering for a “1-2-3 … Shock!” as their Friday practice, the Phoenix Mercury actually hit the floor running. What else would you expect from Paul Westhead?
“Coach, he’s really not a walkthrough type of guy,” said Cappie Pondexter. “If we’re going to practice or we’re doing something, we’re going at it.”
The Mercury did not kill themselves on The Palace floor on Friday, but they did get up and down the court a bit. After warm-ups, shooting drills and a little bit of three-man weave, the Mercury starting doing some X-and-O work in both the half-court and getting out in the open court in transition.
The theme of the Mercury’s adjustments revolved around Detroit’s size advantage in the post. While Westhead joked that the Mercury players have already worked out seven times since Game 1 to get bigger and stronger for tomorrow night, he is looking for ways to combat Detroit’s power game.
“One of the ways you can try to take away the power game is not letting the power get it,” he said. "We could be very kind and forgiving and say, one of the ways is to just give all the other people open shots, but I don’t think that’s a good idea. We’re going to try and get greedy and not give up anything easy, whether it’s outside or inside. But it’s very hard to fight power with power, when they’re already bigger and stronger.”
While Phoenix has made some adjustments in its offensive and defensive sets to deal with Detroit’s size advantage, they are not making any wholesale changes.
“We’re not going to change anything," Diana Taurasi said." We’ve made it this far on our schemes and our game plan and we’re not going to change now. Detroit is who they are and we are who we are.
“Are we going to go big and match up with them? No.
Are we going to stop running? No.
Are we going to stop playing the zone? No.
Will we run a little bit more man? Maybe.
“I think changing it up a little bit more might be a good idea, just to break the flow a little bit. Sometimes when you see a zone for 40 straight minutes you get comfortable in it. You get used to some of the slides and the openings, so that’s something we’re going to have to fix and we got a little bit of that done yesterday.”
Taurasi said the biggest adjustment the Mercury need to make is not in the X’s and O’s, but in effort.
“If we play the zone 15 percent harder, if we run 15 percent harder, if we play 15 percent smarter against their zone, then we’ll be in the game. At the end of the game, you just want a chance. And at the end of (Game 1) we gave ourselves a chance. They made plays and we didn’t.”
The stat that jumps off the box score for the Mercury was the rebounding differential. Detroit outrebounded Phoenix 48-30 and the Mercury only grabbed 17 rebounds on the defensive glass, which slowed them down dramatically.
“We have to get easier looks for each other,” Taurasi said. “They got back well on defense. I think we ended up with 17 defensive rebounds for the whole game. We had to take it out of bounds 85 percent of the game. And it’s hard to beat people down the court when you have to actually get out of bounds and throw it in. When we made our run at the end of the second quarter and made our run at the start of the third quarter, we were getting if off the glass, getting deflections and getting out in our lanes and getting easy shots.
"In the half-court against them, it’s a grind. They’re big. The minute you think you have an open layup, here comes Feenstra and Braxton. So we have to get out and get each other open looks and easier looks.”
When asked if there was anything different she would do for tomorrow’s game, Pondexter’s answer was simple, “We’re trying to get a win … that’s different.
“I just want to get a W. That would be good going back to Phoenix for two games. We would have liked to get both if we could, but obviously that didn’t happen, so a split wouldn’t be bad playing on the road and steal the home court.”
– By Brian Martin, WNBA.com