Defense, Deanna falter vs. Lynx
Deanna Nolan, the two-time reigning Eastern Conference Player of the Week, averaged 20.1 points, 4.4 rebounds and 3.5 assists during Detroit’s 7-1 stretch. She has almost exclusively carried Detroit’s offense in the absence of Katie Smith, who has now missed the last five games with back pain.
"Right now, we look at Katie Smith as a day-to-day thing and we just have to keep on going; that's all,” Shock coach Rick Mahorn said. “I just prepare for the game. If we have players, we have players. If we don't, we don't."
Nolan “only” played 35 minutes Wednesday after playing 85 of a possible 85 minutes the last two games. But Nolan made just three of 19 shots, finishing with nine points and three assists. After connecting on a 3-pointer early in the third quarter, Nolan missed her last nine field-goal attempts, including four in the fourth quarter.
"I think tonight we beat ourselves,” she said. “There were opportunities in the game for us to score on them, which we did. I thought in parts of the game we were playing to their level and not our level. We tried to turn it on too late."
After trailing by a few points for most of the first three quarters, the Shock locked down defensively and held Minnesota without a field goal for nearly eight and a half minutes. A 13-0 run let the Shock take a 69-64 lead with 2:14 remaining. But Renee Montgomery’s 3-pointer with 1:38 left sparked a 11-3 Lynx run to close the game.
"We didn't get back on defense to defend the three-ball,” Cheryl Ford said. Minnesota hit nine 3-pointers on 23 attempts. “We know they're a three-ball shooting team and we didn't get back. Renee hit a big three that hurt us. Then it went down from there."
Ford tallied 16 points and 12 rebounds Wednesday, another encouraging sign for the Shock as they prepare to take their title defense into the postseason. Ford has been increasingly productive as she regains strength and confidence in her right knee, which underwent off-season knee surgery.
Ford is averaging 14.0 points and 10.0 rebounds in four games this month, numbers comparably to what she accomplished prior to her first knee injury in 2007.
"We let one slip away from us. We didn't play our defense the way we should have played them,” she said. “It came down to a couple of offensive boards we should have gotten. I guess we didn't bring the correct effort, so to speak."
If the Shock bring their customary defensive effort Thursday, it could be a long night for the Liberty, the WNBA’s lowest-scoring team (73.0 points per game). New York, the only team in the Eastern Conference eliminated from postseason contention, has lost three in a row, and as fun as it is to play spoiler, it’s unlikely the Liberty would mount the kind of charge from behind that Minnesota did Wednesday. The Lynx needed a victory to keep their postseason hopes alive as they battle San Antonio for the fourth seed in the West.
“They needed a win, they're in desperation mode,” Mahorn said of the Lynx, who at 14-18 now trail the Silver Stars by just the head-to-head tiebreaker. “We're (both) trying to get into the playoffs and they came out and they won the game."
At 16-16, the Shock are still one game ahead of the three 15-17 teams – Chicago, Connecticut and Washington – and one game behind the 17-15 Dream for second place.
Since the Shock lost three of four meetings with the Dream this season, the Shock can’t afford to finish in a tie with Atlanta; they’d lose the tiebreaker. That means to get the No. 2 seed – and home-court advantage for the first round – Detroit would have to win both remaining games to finish 18-16 while the Dream lose both of theirs to finish 17-17. Atlanta hosts Connecticut Friday and plays at Washington Saturday.
Not that positioning was on the Shock’s minds Wednesday night. "We're not in the playoffs,” Mahorn said. “When it starts, when all the dust lands, we'll see if we're there. Right now we're playing for a playoff spot."
If nothing else, the Shock can take an important reminder from Wednesday night’s defeat: they aren’t the only ones still fighting for one.