A Nightmare in New York
Smith, the leading scorer in U.S. women’s professional basketball history, went scoreless – shooting 0-for-7 from the field – for the first time this year. And the Shock – the defending WNBA champions, the owners of the league’s best regular-season record and a team that never lost by more than 10 points – were handed a 22-point defeat by the New York Liberty Friday night, 73-51.
"We didn’t play basketball. We didn’t want it basically. New York definitely wanted it more than us, but we didn’t want it at all. That was discouraging,” Shock head coach Bill Laimbeer said. “We lacked the desire to compete. As a ballclub we were not cohesive. That is something we need to find in the next day and half. If they do we’ll be fine. If we don’t then it’s an early exit."
The Shock must now win two games at The Palace, with Game 2 Sunday at 1 p.m., to keep their season and their dreams of back-to-back WNBA championships alive.
The Liberty led early with an 8-0 run, broke open a tie game with an 18-0 run in the third quarter and closed the Shock out with a 16-1 run in the fourth. New York’s lead grew as large as 26 and dipped below single digits in the fourth quarter only momentarily. It was a farcical turn of events after the previous three meetings between these teams had been decided by a total of seven points, twice by one point and twice in overtime.
The Shock were never in sync offensively and perhaps caught trying to shake off the rust after two weeks of meaningless games. The lineup also continued to be in flux as All-Star forward Cheryl Ford returned for the first time in the 13 games and Sixth Woman of the Year candidate Plenette Pierson made her first start ever for the Shock, a span of 103 games.
"The chemistry of knowing what people like to do or finding people in their spot, just wasn’t there tonight,” said Deanna Nolan, who scored a team-high 16 points. The Shock opened the game 1-for-7 when New York went on its first run and then went through two five-minute droughts without a field goal in the second half. The Shock scored nine points in the first quarter and nine points in the fourth quarter.
"You always have concerns as a coach,” Laimbeer said. “We need to worry about getting Cheryl (Ford) back in the lineup. As a coach you worry about different players not making shots. I worry about Swin Cash not practicing or playing very hard because of her back. Coaches worry about all those little things and they all came into fruition at once."
Another concern was New York’s 3-point shooting, which had burned the Shock previously. After not making any 3-pointers in the first half, New York knocked down four in the third quarter. It started soon as Detroit had taken its first lead of the second half, 29-27. Tied at 29, back-to-back triples by Erin Thorn and Loree Moore were followed by triples from Shameka Christon and Cathrine Kraayeveld for a 45-29 lead. Christon had 16 points and a career-high 15 rebounds.
"Coming out in the second half, start of the third, our defensive focus wasn’t there. You can see it from the first half of the game. They were hitting shots,” Nolan said. “We need those defensive stops to actually give us a chance to take a lead, or get momentum. The shots weren’t falling today."
Pierson scored after Kraayeveld’s triple for her only bucket of the night. She also had a team-high eight rebounds, but likely will return to the key reserve role that Laimbeer had been so adamantly opposed to moving her out of during the regular season when Ford was sidelined. Pierson, normally the team’s most reliable inside scorer in 2007, didn’t attempt another shot in the second half. She finished 1-for-5 with three turnovers and four fouls.
Ford entered the game with 1:10 remaining in the first quarter. Rookie Tiffany Jackson scored over a flat-footed Ford on the first Liberty possession, and Ford went on to play 10 scoreless minutes.
After a Nolan jumper cut the deficit to single digits, 53-44, with nine minutes to play, New York struck again. Triples by Thorn and Kraayeveld seemed to crush the Shock’s spirits. Now Laimbeer must find a way before Sunday to ensure it did not crush the Shock's season.
"New York played hard. They displayed a hard-nosed basketball game like how you are suppose to in the playoffs,” Laimbeer said. “We came to play a basketball game and a poor one if that. We deserved to lose and there are no ifs, ands, or maybes about it. We played dysfunctionally offensively and defensively."