Detroit’s dominant fourth dooms Washington

Taj Takes Over

Taj McWilliams-Franklin wasn’t brought to Detroit to carry the Shock.

But the 37-year-old forward proved she can still handle the load at times, delivering a masterful 21-point, nine-rebound performance against her former team in Detroit’s 84-69 victory at Washington.

The former Mystic had only three points on 1-of-5 shooting in Detroit’s impressive 22-point win over Indiana Friday night. Tired teammates needed her to be more active from the outset Saturday.

“It wasn’t that much fun for me,” she said of facing the team that dealt her to Detroit Aug. 12. “It was fun grinding it out and playing a back-to-back and playing really well after not playing so good yesterday. I felt better and I’m glad we got the win.”

McWilliams-Franklin knocked down one big shot after another, shooting 8-of-12 from the field. None were bigger than her first field goal of the fourth quarter. Tied at 58 after three quarters, the Mystics took a 59-58 lead when Alana Beard split a pair of free throws to open the fourth. McWilliams-Franklin responded immediately with a jumper, and the Shock reeled off 11 unanswered points to finally put away the pesky Mystics. The Shock (19-12) dominated the fourth quarter, 26-11.

The last time these teams met on July 18, McWilliams-Franklin was on the short end of a 37-point rout by the Shock. The Mystics’ defeat cost head coach Tree Rollins his job, and marked the start of a rebuilding phase, accelerated by the August deal sending McWilliams-Franklin to Detroit for Tasha Humphrey and Eshaya Murphy.

Humphrey averaged 10.5 points in her first three games with Washington, but never got comfortable in what was surely an emotional game for the rookie forward. She scored just five points on 2-of-11 shooting to go with a team-high five assists.

Saturday’s trends were evident early as McWilliams-Franklin made her first three shots, Humphrey missed her first three and Detroit took an 8-5 lead in the first five minutes.

The Shock eked out a 23-20 lead after the first quarter, which was marred by a combined 12 turnovers and 14 personal fouls between the teams. Fifty-two personal fouls were called in the game.

The Shock had a 44-40 halftime lead behind nine points and five rebounds from McWilliams-Franklin. The Mystics were able to stay close thanks to superb bench play from Crystal Smith and Andrea Gardner. They each shot 4-for-6 from the floor to combine for 18 points. But they each scored only two points in the second half.

Besides McWilliams-Franklin, Detroit’s other key weapon was foul shooting. The Shock made more free throws (27-of-38) than the Mystics, the league’s worst free-throw shooting team, attempted (11-of-21).

Deanna Nolan had 17 points and 10 rebounds while Katie Smith had 13 points and eight assists for Detroit. Plenette Pierson also had 13 points in her second game back from suspension.

Center Kara Braxton, who scored Detroit’s first two baskets Friday and finished with 12 points, could not duplicate that success in Washington. Two early fouls put her in a funk, and she finished with six points on 2-of-11 shooting.

While the 10-win Mystics wouldn’t appear to pose much of a challenge, back-to-backs have given the Shock trouble ever since the first weekend of the season. The Shock had four back-to-backs on their 2008 schedule, and lost the back end the first three times.

The Mystics (10-20) and Shock will face each other again Thursday at The Palace in Detroit’s home regular-season finale.

Postseason Picture: The Shock inched closer to idle Connecticut, moving within 1.5 games of first place. The Sun host 20-win San Antonio Sunday. A Connecticut loss would bring the Shock within one game with two to play. The Shock own the playoff tiebreaker by virtue of winning the regular-season series, 2-1.