An Ominous Beginning
With Plenette Pierson injuring her right shoulder in a fashion eerily similar to the way she did in last year’s playoffs, the Shock fell behind by 22 points in the first half en route to the worst season-opening loss in franchise history.
The loss of Pierson was a devastating blow to Detroit’s vaunted frontcourt, which already was missing two All-Star starters in Cheryl Ford and Kara Braxton.
“We don’t have an inside game right now. Our two biggest players are out, Plenette was our next most effective player, she was out. They pretty much had their way on the inside, and we knew that would be the problem,” Shock head coach Bill Laimbeer said. “That’s why we played so much zone in the second half. Our perimeter players had to make shots for us to have an opportunity to win the game, and we didn’t.”
Worse yet, judging from the evident agony Pierson was in before getting a bagful of ice wrapped around her shoulder, the Shock likely will be without all three post players for some time, including Monday’s home opener – a rematch with the Sparks. Ford, nursing her surgically repaired right knee, is not expected to play for two more weeks and Kara Braxton is serving a six-game suspension.
Los Angeles led 19-12 with 1:13 left in the first quarter when Pierson and Tina Thompson tangled for a rebound, with Pierson falling to the floor with her right arm trapped behind her back. The 2007 Sixth Woman of the Year dislocated the same shoulder last September when locking arms with Indiana’s Ebony Hoffman during Game 2 of the Eastern Conference semifinals. Pierson, who would have missed several weeks during the regular season, still appeared in four of Detroit’s last six playoff games en route to the title.
With just eight players able to play, the shorthanded Shock more closely resembled the team from late July – which went through a season-high four-game losing skid with Ford injured and Pierson suspended – than the championship squad that swept the finals in October.
The Sparks led 24-14 after the first quarter and pushed the lead to 22 just before halftime. They did so without reigning league MVP Candace Parker, who had her first child in May, and very little help from three-time MVP Lisa Leslie. The Sparks led by 14 before getting any points from Leslie, who missed her first four shots and was whistled twice for traveling. She finished with just six points on 3-of-11 shooting.
Thompson led the Sparks in her Los Angeles debut with 18 points, and another newcomer, guard Betty Lennox, had 17 points and 10 rebounds.
“They have more scorers [than in the past], no question about that. More shooters,” Laimbeer said of L.A. “They’ve structured their team well. I’ve said all along that I expect them to come out of the West and us to come out of the East. And I think they’re thinking the same thing.”
Three-pointers were critical to the Sparks’ early lead. They made their first three attempts and were 4-for-6 at halftime; Detroit was 1-for-10 with Katie Smith delivering the only make.
Deanna Nolan, who came up with a leg injury on Detroit’s first possession and later received an inadvertent clothesline from Lennox that did not draw a whistle, battled her way to a team-high 15 points on 6-of-15 shooting. Taj McWilliams was the only other Shock player in double figures with 10. Detroit shot 30.6 percent from the field (19-of-62).
“Bill’s always saying ‘Shoot if you’re open. If it goes in, it goes in. if it doesn’t, it doesn’t.’ And so we can’t worry about our shooting,” said McWilliams, who made five of 10 shots. “We have great shooters. Any day we’ll take Katie Smith and Deanna Nolan over anybody in the league.”
Smith and Shavonte Zellous scored eight apiece, but shot poorly. Smith was 3-for-12, while the rookie guard Zellous made just 1-of-7 in her regular-season debut. Olayinka Sanni did her best for Detroit’s depleted frontcourt, scoring eight points and grabbing a team-high eight rebounds in 26 minutes.
The Shock had as many turnovers as field goals in the first half (10), but had had a solid third, switching to a zone defense that held L.A. to just 10 points in the quarter. That helped cut the deficit to 17.
AfterShocks: After winning both previous season openers coming off the championship, head coach Bill Laimbeer suffered his worst season-opening loss as coach of the Shock. The previous franchise record was a 17-point defeat in the 1999 opener. … The Shock have not had back-to-back losses to open a season since 2002, when the Shock lost their first 13 games. Laimbeer became head coach during that skid.