Detroit head coach Bill Laimbeer goes over a play with his team during practice Monday.
Collin Pierson/NBAE/Getty Images
When the Shock took the practice court for the first time since touching down in Phoenix Sunday night, there were no long faces in the bunch. On the contrary, the body language was confident and loose, but not to the point where they seemed cocky or unfocused. It’s clear the Shock have moved on from their embarrassing Game 2 home defeat that evened up the 2007 WNBA Finals.
“We weren’t focused and we disappointed a lot of fans, but it’s part of basketball,” said Detroit forward Cheryl Ford about the Game 2 loss. “We lost home-court advantage. They stole a game from us, so we have to come down here and steal one from them. It’s as simple as that.”
The thing is, the Shock have been here before. In last year’s Finals, they lost home-court advantage by being blown out in Game 1 by the Sacramento Monarchs, 95-71. After splitting the next two games, Detroit regained home-court advantage by returning the favor in Sacramento in Game 4, rolling to a 72-52 victory. The Shock went on to win the series in five games.
“We did the same thing last year against Sacramento,” said Ford. “I know it’s a new year, but everybody knows that we play better with our backs against the wall.”
Detroit has also faced adversity in each of its first two playoff series this year, dropping the openers against both New York and Indiana before taking care of business.
The difference? The Shock haven’t had to win on the road until now. They took care of their home court in Rounds 1 and 2 and now, following a 28-point defeat at the Palace, they need to come up with their first road win since August 3 in Chicago.
“In the New York game, we got killed and we weren’t ready to play,” said Detroit head coach Bill Laimbeer. “It happens to us sometimes. In Indiana, we were frustrated by the referees. But traditionally, when it comes to when we need to play well on the road, we come together as a ball club and put on a good show.”
Shock guard Katie Smith echoed Laimbeer’s statements.
“We’ve struggled on the road lately, although the last four or five games of the regular season we didn’t really play the majority of our players, so we don’t really count that,” said Smith. “But we are a good road team. We don’t mind being on the road. We don’t mind playing in an environment where nobody really wants us to win.”
While the Shock are riding a five-game road losing streak dating back to the regular season, the Mercury have won their last seven at home, meaning they haven’t lost on their court yet in the playoffs. On top of that, Phoenix now has the momentum in this series.
“It’s important to get the crowd out of it,” said Detroit guard Deanna Nolan about Game 3. “The first five minutes are going to be very important for us, just to set the tone in the game, whether it’s fast or slow, whether it’s getting the ball inside or knocking down outside shots. We need to just set the tone and play Detroit Shock basketball.”
Will Shock Have Ford For Game 3?
Ford returned the court Saturday for Game 2 after missing the opener, but her presence obviously wasn’t enough to light a fire under the Shock. It was a frustrating night for Ford, much like it was for the rest of Detroit, as she turned the ball over early and often, picked up a technical foul for arguing a call and left the game for good midway through the third quarter after hoisting up her first-ever three-point attempt in the regular season or playoffs.
Laimbeer said after the game that he pulled Ford out because the game was lost and it wasn’t worth risking her health, not because she was experiencing more pain in her injured left knee.
But just because Ford played in Game 2, it doesn’t necessarily mean she’s guaranteed to go in Game 3.
Well, that depends on who you ask.
“It is a game-time decision, as it always is,” said Laimbeer. “She will not practice today. It is just a matter of how she feels tomorrow.”
“I’m playing,” said Ford with a smirk. “I don’t care how sore it is or how much it hurts. I’m going out and I’m playing.”
For now, Laimbeer’s statement is the official one.
Dealing With Diana
Detroit’s offensive woes were a major area of concern following the Game 2 defeat, but the more pressing issue may be how to contain Phoenix’s Diana Taurasi, who exploded for a game-high 30 points on 11-of-20 shooting, including 7-of-14 from beyond the arc.
When asked what adjustments Laimbeer planned to make on the defensive end against Taurasi, the Shock coach deferred all questions on the subject to assistant coach and defensive guru Cheryl Reeve.
Reeve actually believed that those aforementioned offensive woes led to the lackluster effort checking Taurasi and Co.
“If we get frustrated, we don’t take the type of shots that we’re ready to take, and we’re not ready to transition back, and we’re hanging our heads,” said Reeve. “What we do on the offensive end really does dictate how we defend.”
“The same lack of focus we had on the offensive end, we had on the defensive end,” added Reeve. “They did whatever they wanted to do.”
Reeve also said that the Shock have played man-to-man for the majority of the Finals, but the times they have used zone in both games have been quite effective. However, she made sure to stress that the problem is not what style of defense they choose to play, but how much energy and effort they bring to the table.
“If we don’t play hard and with focus against them, they’ll fire away,” said Reeve.
– By Mark Bodenrader, WNBA.com
|Diana Taurasi broke out for 30 points in Game 2 of the Finals after three subpar games against Detroit. Can she repeat that performance in Game 3?|
|Collin Pierson/NBAE/Getty Images|
Mercury Practice Notes
The Phoenix Mercury would like nothing more than to have a repeat performance of Game 2 when the 2007 WNBA Finals continue tomorrow night with Game 3.
“We’re not greedy, if the game could come out perfectly duplicated, we’ll take it,” said Mercury coach Paul Westhead. “I’m not anticipating that kind of duplication. We’re very aware that Detroit will do things to improve their game, so we’re trying our best to do enough to improve our game.”
So what needs to be done to improve on the Mercury's 28-point win on Saturday?
“We improved our zone defense (in Game 2) and we saw after the game some glitches where they beat us and they countered us,” Westhead said. “So we’re going to try to trim some of that. That won’t take off 30 points, but maybe a few baskets if we can do that.
“Offensively, we always think we can run a little better. Early on there were three, four, five shots that were like in and popped out; they just rattled out. We think we can still improve on our shot-making.”
The Mercury players know one thing that will not be the same from Game 2 and that is the effort and play of the defending champs from Detroit.
“I expect to see a mad Shock team, an aggressive Shock team,” said Tangela Smith. “They’re not going to bow down from just one game, just like we didn’t after the first game. We definitely think they’re going to come back really wanting it, but it comes down to who wants it more.”
"They're going to come out hungry; they're a great team,” added Cappie Pondexter. “The reason they're here is the reason they're the Eastern Conference Champions, so I expect nothing less than a great game."
The Mercury stole home-court advantage from the Shock by winning Game 2 in Detroit, and can close out the series at home by winning the next two games in Phoenix.
“It would be great, but we want to take one game at a time,” said Pondexter. “With Detroit, we're messing with a dangerous team. They can have a bad game and be great the next two, so we just have to focus and take one game at a time and come out and be really aggressive.”
After closing out the San Antonio series at home on Sept. 1, the Mercury had to wait for the Eastern Conference Finals to end before heading to Detroit for the first two games of the Finals. So the Mercury players are ready to play in front of their home crowd again.
"We've been away from these guys for maybe a week and a half, so they'll bring us a lot of energy and a lot of enthusiasm,” Pondexter said. “I know they're excited to see us. It's the first time in a long time that we've been in the Finals and playing a game here. So I know they'll be excited."
Smith mentioned some of the little things that come with playing at home.
“We’re glad to be home in our own locker room and our own apartments and our own beds,” she said. “And we have the greatest fans in the WNBA behind us.”
While Westhead appreciates playing at home, he is not quick to call it much of an advantage in this series.
"I hope that 'advantage' is the word that comes out of this,” he said. “It helps being home. Every little bit helps, but when you reach this level, the game is the thing. You have to get out and play your very best whether you are home or away. We certainly intend to do that, but we won't say that it is now our advantage. We better create our own advantage on the court."
Matching up with Detroit’s Front Line
After Kara Braxton, Plenette Pierson and Katie Feenstra combined for 55 points and 29 rebounds in Detroit’s Game 1 win, the Mercury made adjustments to make things more difficult for the bigger post players. In Game 2, the same three players combined for just 24 points and 20 rebounds. If you include Cheryl Ford, who played in Game 2 after missing Game 1, the numbers jump to 29 points and 27 rebounds, still far below the Game 1 production. The Mercury are hoping for more of the same in Game 3.
“We just have to continue doing what we did in the last game,” Smith said. “We were really aggressive with them and I think we frustrated them a little bit. We put bodies on them. They’re an aggressive team, so we tried to play aggressively with them. “
“Our guys can definitely hang with Detroit’s bigs,” she continued. “Schuey (Kelly Schumacher) is a key post player who comes in and can match up with them because she’s tall. We’re all kind of undersized strength-wise, but we can use our quickness against them. They’re big and we’re quick. We’ll just run ‘em, run ‘em, run ‘em and try to slow them down.”
One key adjustment from Game 1 to Game 2 for the Mercury was how quickly they double- and triple-teamed the post players once they touched the ball.
“Cheryl, Plenette, Feenstra… they’re all great post players,” Smith said. “We just wanted to swarm them and take them out of their game. Once they get it one on one, they’re big and can usually take it right to the hoop. So we bring two people at them and try to limit their options, make their shots harder and frustrate them a little bit.”
Taurasi Breaks Out Against Shock
In Phoenix’s first three games against Detroit this season – two in the regular season and the first game of the Finals – Diana Taurasi scored a total of 30 points and shot just 11-of-42 (26.1 percent). Phoenix lost all three games.
Taurasi scored 30 points in Game 2 of the Finals on Saturday on 11-of-20 shooting, including 7-of-14 from 3-point range.
"I have said this since I have been here," said Westhead. "We're going to win or lose, live or die, with Diana Taurasi. She is the heart of our team. She has always been that. To her advantage, we have surrounded her with people who can carry the load and can win games for us sometimes if she is struggling. She is the one who is going to be the difference-maker for our team. She has been and will be, and she sure did it in Game 2."
Finally Slowing the Pace
It’s been said countless times during the Finals that the Mercury are going to play the way they play and that is run, run, run. However, for at least one practice day, the Mercury slowed down the pace a bit.
“We kind of eased up more than I even though I was going to,” Westhead said after Monday’s practice session. “Some of our players were a little on the stiff, sore side. We were going to do a little more up and down stuff, but I passed on that today. It was a very brief, somewhat crisp practice. We’re OK. You don’t win the games in practice.”
No New Shoes Yet
Taurasi has yet to make good on her promise to buy Westhead a new pair of shoes after he wore mismatched shoes for the first two games in Detroit.
“We’re going to wait until the end,” Westhead said. “Dee is going to take me to Venice or Florence and get real Italian shoes. You don’t want these ones that they say are Italian but are made somewhere else. No knock-offs.”
– By Brian Martin, WNBA.com