Shock head coach Bill Laimbeer reacts during Game 4 of the WNBA Finals.
Jeff Bottari/NBAE/Getty Images
Opportunity Knocks, But Detroit Can’t Capitalize
By Mark Bodenrader,

PHOENIX, Sept. 13 -- With 7:03 left in the third quarter, Detroit’s Deanna Nolan drained a three-pointer to put the Shock ahead by nine at 47-38 – their largest lead of the game. The trey culminated a 12-2 stretch in which Detroit sank four straight three-pointers, with Katie Smith hitting two others and Shannon Johnson also connecting from downtown.

Sure, it was still relatively early, but the Shock had a great opportunity to put the Mercury away for good. Already up 2-1 in the 2007 WNBA Finals following a Game 3 win in Phoenix, Detroit’s big guns were blasting away.

On top of that, the defense was doing a stellar job against Phoenix, holding them well below their usually torrid scoring pace.

But 90 seconds later it was tied. The Mercury returned to form by running off nine quick, unanswered points, culminated by a Diana Taurasi three-pointer that re-energized the US Airways Center crowd.

The defending champs though refused to be rattled and responded with six straight points of their own. Over a minute later, the Shock’s lead was at seven, 58-51, after Smith hit her third three-pointer of the quarter and fourth of the game. It marked Detroit’s second chance in the quarter to take control and demoralize Phoenix.

But again, Detroit let the Mercury off the hook, putting Phoenix at the line twice in the final 1:17 of the quarter and also committing a turnover that led to a Cappie Pondexter three-pointer. Soon the seven-point advantage was back down to one.

“We hit a couple buckets, got a little cushion, but it wasn't enough against them,” said Smith. “And they came and pushed it right down our throats. We had a couple turnovers and they had a couple run-outs on us and we weren't matched up and they knocked down some shots. So the momentum, obviously, whatever we had, they took away and it was basically back to an even playing field. But, yeah, we would have liked to have extended that a little bit, but obviously we didn't take advantage of that.”

So went the recurring theme for the Shock in Game 4 in Phoenix Thursday night – missed opportunities. On a night when Detroit could have become back-to-back champions, only the second three-time champions in the history of the WNBA and the first team to win a title on the opponent’s court, the team couldn’t seal the deal despite the many chances thrown its way.

Consider if you will that Nolan, Smith and Plenette Pierson all had superb games for the Shock and Phoenix’s Tangela Smith and Penny Taylor combined to shoot 2-of-21 from the floor. Yet Detroit still squandered the potential title-clincher.

Smith shot well for the second straight game, especially from beyond the arc (4-of-7), and finished with 14 points.

Nolan added 17 on 7-of-11 shooting while also collecting eight rebounds, a team-high five assists, two steals and three blocks. Unfortunately, her performance might be most remembered for passing on a shot on the team’s final possession.

Down one with 18.6 seconds to go, the Shock played for the last shot and a chance to win it at the horn. Nolan, who had just hit a go-ahead shot with 34.6 seconds remaining before Pondexter came through for the Mercury, received the ball at the top of the key, looking to create her own shot. Once Phoenix brought a double-team, she passed off to Johnson, who was open in the corner, but not open enough to hoist up a shot, which caused her to drive and take an off-balance runner just before time expired.

The shot missed and Phoenix had tied up the series at 2-2.

“It wasn't the shot we wanted,” said Detroit coach Bill Laimbeer. “We wanted to get the ball in Deanna Nolan's hands to get a shot. She felt she was unable to get her own shot and passed it to Pee Wee. It didn't go in.”

But Nolan wasn’t the only one to experience a bitter end to an otherwise spectacular night.

Pierson led Detroit with 23 points on a ridiculous 9-of-10 shooting performance from the field to go along with 5-of-6 from the free throw line. And the reliable reserve forward, who played 26 minutes, didn’t miss once after the break and went 4-for-4 in the final quarter.

“(Pierson) played outstanding offensively,” said Laimbeer. “She turned the ball over a little too much, but she was very aggressive and made her shots.”

As Laimbeer alluded to, Pierson’s performance was tainted by the fact that she committed five turnovers, including a critical one with 51.8 seconds to play. With Detroit nursing a one-point advantage at 74-73, Pierson looked for Cheryl Ford down low, but her pass went awry. Phoenix responded by taking the lead at the other end on a jumper by Pondexter.

Overall, turnovers probably killed Detroit more than anything in Game 4. The Shock totaled 19 in the game, with six coming in the final quarter. In all, they led to 23 points for the Mercury.

“It always hurts when you have turnovers,” said Pierson. “What’s new? We made the turnovers, we made the mistakes and they capitalized.”

Phoenix also capitalized on its offensive rebounds for the second straight game, converting 11 second-chance points off 12 offensive boards.

“We needed to limit their second-chance shots,” said Nolan. “That’s what got them the lead late in the game. You get to those rebounds and that’s the game for us.”

Phoenix did its work on the offensive glass in spite of a valiant effort from Ford, who once again was a force on the boards while playing on an injured left knee. Playing in her third straight Finals game, she pulled down 14 rebounds in just over 26 minutes of action, with five coming on the offensive glass.

But with just 42 seconds left, as Pondexter was giving Phoenix a one-point lead with a jumper in the lane, Ford went down under the basket, clutching her left knee. She was unable to leave the court under her own power.

"I would be extremely pessimistic about her having an opportunity to play in Game 5," said Laimbeer.

Officially, Ford has a left knee strain. With the power forward likely out of the deciding Game 5 in Detroit on Sunday, not clinching the title with her in the lineup might end up being Detroit’s biggest missed opportunity of them all.