Doing No Wrong Out West
After enjoying double-digit leads en route to wins at Los Angeles and Seattle earlier in the week, the Shock trailed the Mercury by 16 points, 75-59, with 1:28 left in the third quarter. The Shock finished the game with 19 turnovers and starting guards Katie Smith and Deanna Nolan shooting a combined 5-of-21 from the field.
Yet none of those facts could stop the Shock from taking an 87-84 victory at US Airways Arena. If the Shock can win Saturday night at Sacramento, they will have completed an undefeated road trip against the four teams that were atop the Western Conference when the team left Detroit June 17.
Guard Shannon Johnson scored 23 while center Kara Braxton and forward Plenette Pierson each tallied double-doubles, which helped compensate for the loss of All-Star forward Cheryl Ford, who did not play for the third time in four games to nurse a left knee sprain.
Braxton was a non-factor when given the chance to shine in Ford’s absence a week ago, but she delivered immediately against Phoenix with six points and five rebounds in the first quarter. With only one career double-double before Friday, Braxton nearly reached that standard by halftime with 13 points and nine rebounds.
The other Detroit scorer in double figures by halftime was Johnson, who never cooled off. She hit four triples in the second half, three in the third quarter. Johnson was 7-of-12 from long range, falling one triple shy of Mercury guard Diana Taurasi’s league record set last season.
Taurasi could not find the mark Friday, however, missing two potential game-tying treys in the final seconds. She was only 2-of-9 from 3-point range and 6-of-22 from the field overall. She finished with 15 points and eight assists.
The Mercury scored 22, 31, and 22 points in the first three quarters, and finished only a half-point shy of their league-leading average of 84.5 points per game. But the Mercury scored only nine points in the fourth. “We started playing stronger defense and didn’t give them any open looks,” Johnson said. “They are a hard team to prepare for but we were able to come out with a lot of intensity once we got down and were able to fight back.”
Pierson had 15 points and 11 rebounds, including several big plays down the stretch. She made a pair of free throws to give Detroit its first lead of the second half, 81-80, with 3:10 remaining and then hit a final go-ahead jumper to make it 83-82 with 1:50 to play. Katie Smith made four free throws in the final 30 seconds to seal the Shock’s comeback. She scored 11 of her 16 points in the fourth quarter.
Ford missed two games prior to scoring 10 points in the Shock’s win at Seattle Wednesday. It is not believed Ford aggravated the injury, but rather sat out Friday as a precaution. Her status for Saturday will again be a game-time decision.
The Mercury were also without a 2006 All-Star Friday night, and for three quarters looked like they would pull out a win without Cappie Pondexter. The second-year guard torched the Shock twice last season but missed her second straight game with a strained muscle.
Forward Penny Taylor did a good Pondexter impression for one half. Taylor, who is averaging 12.8 points, had 19 points at halftime on 6-of-9 from the field and 6-of-6 from the foul line. She scored only four points in the second half. “She had a great first half so we had to adjust defensively on her,” Shock head coach Bill Laimbeer said. “ We started attacking her off of the dribble and didn’t give her any open looks in the second half.”
The Shock improved to 3-8 all-time in Phoenix, and defeated the only team they failed to get a win against in 2006.
Sacramento falls Friday night
While the Shock were rallying, their Saturday night opponent, the Sacramento Monarchs, were being rallied against. The Monarchs eventually lost a 19-point, third-quarter lead in Los Angeles in a 96-88 defeat to the Sparks. The loss snapped a three-game winning streak, but the Monarchs remain a half game ahead of San Antonio for first place in the West. Center Yolanda Griffith scored a season-high 20 points Friday night, which Monarchs fans can only hope is a sign of things to come. The 2005 Finals MVP scored one point on opening day in Detroit.