Rising to the Occasion
The Detroit Shock’s three keys to winning without All-Star forward Cheryl Ford all came together Saturday en route to a 76-64 victory over the Mystics in Washington, D.C.
While those have been the same principles Shock head coach Bill Laimbeer has banked on all year, the Shock’s margin for error has been drastically reduced without Ford, who will miss at least the last nine games of the regular season with an ailing left knee.
Ford’s teammates made sure she would not be missed Saturday. Detroit more than doubled up the Mystics in rebounds, 49-20, and nearly did so in points in the paint, 42-22, thanks to impressive performances off the bench by Braxton and forward Plenette Pierson. Braxton produced her best effort since June with 15 points on 7-of-10 from the field and nine rebounds, including a team-high four on the offensive glass. Pierson had 18 points – her most since 22 in the season opener May 19 – and seven rebounds.
The Shock trailed after the first quarter, 22-16, as Washington scored 12 points in the paint. But Detroit allowed only 20 points in the second and third quarters combined to a take a 19-point lead into the fourth. Leading by as many as 24, the Shock saw their lead dwindle to nine in the closing minutes. They had blown a 16-point halftime lead in their last visit to Washington, a 65-64 defeat.
The Mystics scored six points in the second quarter – one shy of the Shock record for fewest points allowed in a quarter – and trailed Detroit at halftime, 37-28. After a 3-for-18 performance Thursday, Katie Smith 5-of-9 in the first half for 12 points. She cooled off from the field in the second half but finished with a game-high 21. At halftime, Braxton and Pierson each had eight points and five rebounds.
Detroit piled on immediately after the break, as Braxton became the second Shock player in double figures, pushing the lead to 46-31. Swin Cash’s three-point play late in the third quarter gave Detroit a 20-point lead, 59-39.
By the end of the third quarter, the Shock had already surpassed their league-leading average of 38 rebounds with 39 to Washington’s 16. Through three quarters, the Shock had as many offensive rebounds (13) as Washington did defensive. Cash’s 10 boards led a team effort that saw six players grab at least five rebounds.
The Shock’s third 2007 All-Star, Deanna Nolan, scored a season-low four points on 2-of-7 from the field. Since setting a franchise record with 36 points at Connecticut Tuesday, Nolan has scored just 10 points on 4-of-21 shooting the past two games. She did, however, have seven rebounds and a team-high four assists Saturday. She scored 28 in the team’s last visit to Washington.
The Shock (19-6) now have a three-game lead on second-place Indiana, which has lost five straight since losing an All-Star of its own, Tamika Catchings. The victory officially clinched Detroit a playoff bid.
A Mystics victory would not only have pulled them out of the Eastern Conference cellar for the first time all season, but right into the postseason picture. The Mystics could have moved into the fourth playoff spot, percentage points ahead of idle New York and Chicago. Instead, they fall to 10-14. Washington is 6-2 in its last eight games with both losses coming to Detroit.
Gameday for L.A.
The Shock, now 6-4 when Ford has been sidelined, have fared better than other teams that have endured the season-ending loss of an All-Star, namely Indiana and the Shock’s opponent Saturday, the Los Angeles Sparks. Chamique Holdsclaw’s unexpected retirement in June has sent the Sparks into a tailspin. Head coach Michael Cooper’s squad arrives at The Palace with a 1-9 record in its last 10 games, including an 85-76 loss at last-place Minnesota Friday.
One positive sign has been the emergence of rookie guard Sidney Spencer, who scored in double-figures seven times during that stretch (11.7 ppg).
The Shock won in L.A., 79-73, on June 18. Ford also missed that game, just five days after suffering a left-knee bone bruise. At the time, the Sparks were atop the Western Conference.