“Defensive rebounding wins, there’s no question about it,” said Laimbeer, who lost his first three games as head coach before rallying the Shock to an 8-7 finish. “As soon as you instill that in your core operations, you’re for the better. And that’s one of the things I brought in is, we’re going to talk about offense, but we’re going to play defense and we’re always going to rebound, no matter what.”
It’s an approach his team demonstrated to perfection Sunday for a 97-76 victory, and one that their opponent, the Atlanta Dream, may soon want to emulate. The defeat dropped the Dream to 0-13, joining Detroit’s 2002 squad for the longest losing streak to open a WNBA season.
Detroit’s victory was built on the boards, where the Shock had a 44-30 advantage. The Dream had just one offensive rebound in the first half, and were eventually outscored 29-5 in second-chance points. With the help of 18 offensive rebounds, Detroit had 84 shot attempts to Atlanta’s 58. In their first meeting at Philips Arena, the Dream outrebounded the Shock, 42-37.
“We were upset because the last time we came here they outrebounded us by a good amount and we knew we couldn’t let that happen,” forward Tasha Humphrey said. “We just came out and attacked the glass and we got rebounds.”
The rookie from Gainesville, Ga., received a nice ovation from the Philips Arena crowd, then had her best all-around game as a pro with 16 points, nine rebounds and five steals. Humphrey, whom Atlanta bypassed with the No. 8 pick in the draft before landing in Detroit three picks later, was key to scoring runs in the first and fourth quarters. She was 5-of-12 from the field, including three triples.
Humphrey converted a four-point play during a 12-0 run to end the first quarter, breaking a 14-14 tie. It was the start of a dominant first-half stretch during which Detroit outscored Atlanta, 33-11. They led by as many as 23 before going into halftime ahead, 52-35.
Balance was the name of the game for Detroit, which had 14 offensive rebounds and 14 defensive rebounds in the first half, as well as 14 assists on 19 field goals. Five players had eight points or more at halftime. Deanna Nolan, coming off a historic 44-point performance in Friday’s overtime win over Minnesota, had nine points and seven assists.
“We needed a game like this, for certain individual players to get some confidence, to play well as a team and Cheryl Ford had a big game,” Laimbeer said. “It was great for her, she came with the right focus today.”
Ford had her best offensive game of the season with 20 points and 12 rebounds, flashing the form she had before undergoing off-season knee surgery. She had been averaging a career-low 7.3 points per game. It was her second consecutive double-double after scoring in double figures just once in the first 11 games. “I guess it is a good start back for me,” she said. “Today (the knee) felt OK, it wasn’t as sore to push off.”
The Dream’s only reliable weapon was former Shock guard Ivory Latta, who scored 26 points on 8-of-11 shooting, including five 3-pointers. Latta’s consecutive triples allowed the Dream to hold a brief lead at 8-7.
“I’m happy for her,” said Laimbeer, who traded the player he acquired for Latta, LaToya Thomas, to Minnesota before the game. “We knew she could shoot 3-balls, and she’s a little bugger out there at times, so there will be days when she gets a big scoring number and today was one of those days and I’m happy for her.”
Latta’s 3 in the last minute of the third quarter pulled the Dream within 68-60. But Nolan dished to Humphrey for a 3-pointer in the corner to end the quarter. Humphrey hit another 3 early in the fourth to make it 79-62, ending the Atlanta threat.
“Deanna makes the defense (collapse) so much, they just left me out there, and that’s what I’m here for, to knock down shots, and that’s what I did,” Humphrey said. “ Fortunately I was able to put it in.”
The Shock not only erased the dubious distinction of their 2002 squad, they elevated themselves to first place in the Eastern Conference over idle Connecticut. Both teams are 10-3, with the Shock having won the first head-to-head meeting. The teams meet twice this week, beginning at Connecticut on Tuesday.