Flawed Phoenix Finale
Most of all, they want to be remembered for winning it all.
They will have the chance to do all of the above Sunday night in Game 5 of the WNBA Finals at The Palace. Because for reasons quite clear and circumstances too grim to dwell on, it didn’t happen for the Shock in Game 4 at US Airways Arena in Phoenix Thursday night.
The Shock lost Thursday, 77-76, to the Phoenix Mercury, despite leading by nine in the third quarter and by four with 2:15 to play. Despite shooting nearly 10 percent better than the Mercury (48.3 to 38 percent) and still outrebounding them on the defensive boards by eight. Despite having more assists, more blocked shots, and more bench production.
It was all undone by 10 fourth-quarter turnovers resulting in 14 Mercury points and guard Cappie Pondexter, who scored 20 of her 26 points in the second half – including the winning layup with 21.7 seconds left.
“Obviously we’re a little disappointed we did not win that game. Our inability to handle turnovers was a big factor in us losing,” Shock head coach Laimbeer said. “We had too many, especially [in] the fourth quarter. That can’t happen when you’re trying to close out a series. We know that. That we still did it is a little disappointing. And our players know it. They know while we played hard, we played focus, we didn’t play well.”
Accepting the shortcomings in their own performance was probably easier for the Shock players than watching Cheryl Ford fall to the floor with 40 seconds left and not leave the floor under her own power. Ford suffered what appears to be a significant relapse in the rehabilitation of her left knee. “I would be extremely pessimistic about her having an opportunity to play in Game 5,” said Laimbeer, making the only official comment on Ford’s health.
“I’m looking for every player on our ball club to step up and play with a fire and the intensity necessary to win a championship,” Laimbeer said. “That’s what we do. That’s who we are. We’ll be a man down. Okay, been there done that before, too. “
The Shock built a nine-point lead early in the third quarter when they made four consecutive 3-pointers, two by Katie Smith, who for the second straight game was in vintage form, shooting 5-for-11 from the floor for 14 points. The Shock drained the same number of 3-pointers, seven, as the free-shooting Mercury on six fewer attempts.
“We hit a couple buckets, got a little cushion, not much against them,” Smith said. “ … [We] would have liked to have kind of extended that a bit but obviously didn’t take advantage of that.”
Or another record-setting performance by forward Plenette Pierson, who shot 9-of-10 from the floor, the best percentage ever in a Finals game (breaking her own record from Game 1). Booed from the moment she stepped on the floor and jeered throughout the game, Pierson had a game-high 12 points in the first half and finished with 23. “You know what, I don’t really listen to that,” Pierson said. “I just play my game and it was working for me tonight.”
In the fourth quarter, she scored nine points and assisted on a Ford layup, but also committed three turnovers. “She played outstanding offensive-wise,” Laimbeer said. “She turned the ball over a little too much, but she was very aggressive, made her shots.”
Pierson’s counterpart in a Game 3 altercation, Penny Taylor, did not respond as well. Two games after tying a Finals record with 32 points, the Phoenix forward scored only six on 1-for-11 shooting.
The Shock must now win their third WNBA championship in five years on the same terms they did in 2003 and 2006 – a winner-take-all affair at home. But that’s nothing new for the Shock, who have won their last seven elimination games – four in these playoffs.
“I told our players I’ve been every situation you could possibly dream of,” Laimbeer said. “I’ve been in the most brutal losses, I’ve been in the games when you make buzzer shots to win championships. I’ve lost championships, I’ve won them. Okay, this is why we play the whole season. For this moment. And that’s what we’re going to do, is take care of business.”
AfterShocks: Two days after scoring the most points in the first quarter of a WNBA Finals game, the Shock scored the fewest, 12, to open Game 4. The teams combined for 29 points, another record low.