Shock impressive in Pierson’s return

Back in Business

Plenette Pierson looked like she never left, and the Detroit Shock looked like the team to beat once again, soundly knocking off postseason-bound Indiana at The Palace Friday night, 90-68.

Pierson had 20 points, half coming at the foul line (10-11 FTs), six rebounds and four assists, all team highs. Not coincidentally, Detroit shot a season-best 60.4 percent from the field while holding Indiana to 30.4 percent, a season low for a Shock opponent.

“Plenette’s a great player and we want her to come and try to be a 20-point scorer every game,” Shock head coach Bill Laimbeer said. “She might not get 20 every game, but we talked about her being very aggressive offensively and trying to prove, not redeem herself, but to show she’s a great basketball player.”

The WNBA’s reigning Sixth Woman of the Year had been suspended for Detroit’s last four games for the skirmish with the Sparks July 22, the same night the Shock lost Cheryl Ford for the season. Without Pierson and an assortment suspended or injured players, the Shock went 1-3 in Pierson’s absence.

But Friday wasn’t even close after Fever guard Tully Bevilaqua tied the game at 17 with a 3-pointer early in the second quarter. Pierson converted a three-point play on a pass from Alexis Hornbuckle, the beginning of 16 unanswered Shock points. Detroit made 10 consecutive field goals and most impressively did it all without Katie Smith, who played only 55 seconds of the quarter. Laimbeer showed a great deal of confidence in his reserves, and it paid off with a 48-15 advantage in bench points.

“Our bench players came in and contributed,” Laimbeer said when asked what impressed him about the 16-0 run. “Hornbuckle had a good second quarter, [Olayinka] Sanni played well, and obviously Plenette played well. [Kelly] Schumacher’s given us some good quality minutes also. Everybody’s contributing, that’s fun."

Hornbuckle scored the last six points of the run, drawing a foul on Tan White with a nice pump fake for a three-point play followed by a 3-pointer from the left wing to make it 33-17. Hornbuckle had 10 points (her first double-digit scoring game since June), three assists and three steals.

Deanna Nolan also caught fire during the 16-0 run, draining a long 3-pointer to bail out a broken play as the shot clock expired. Nolan went 6-for-6 in the quarter, including three 3-pointers, for 15 points. She finished with 19 points in just 28 minutes, well below her season average.

“I think we have a different swagger, just to go out and prove to ourselves and the league that we’re back,” Nolan said. With Pierson in the fold for the first time with six-time All-Star forward Taj McWilliams-Franklin, the Shock once again had the look a physical team that will be tough to be in the paint.

“I think our team knows who they are very well right now,” Laimbeer said. “We like who we are, a lot. And we know that we have players at all positions that we can bring off the bench that are going to play just as hard as our starters, so our starters know they can play as hard as they can from the start.”

The Fever pulled within nine points in the third quarter with a 12-0 run, but McWilliams-Franklin drained a 3-pointer to push Detroit’s lead back to 12. The lead was not threatened again. Two minutes earlier Pierson’s put-back of a missed McWilliams-Franklin attempt at the rim turned into a three-point play.

“She makes a lot of shots when you don’t think she has anything so it really helps me out a lot just mentally staying with it,” Pierson said of McWilliams-Franklin. “I know she’s going to make the good pass to me or make a smart shot and I can get a rebound or something.”

Friday night was also a return for Indiana’s Tamika Catchings. The Shock defeated the Fever twice in May when the All-Star forward was still recuperating the torn Achilles tendon she suffered in Game 3 of 2007 Eastern Conference finals at The Palace. Catchings filled the stat sheet with 20 points and 10 rebounds but could not prevent the Shock’s season sweep.

The Fever (14-16) are close to a lock for the No. 4 playoff seed, three wins ahead of Chicago but unlikely to catch No. 3 New York (17-12).

Postseason Picture: The Sun (20-10) defeated Chicago Friday night to maintain their two-game lead for first. Connecticut, riding a league-best seven-game win streak, has only four games left but must play 20-win San Antonio twice. The Shock (18-12) also have four games and get 10-19 Washington twice, so the door remains open for the East’s top seed.

“We can only do what we can do,” Laimbeer said. “We’re going to try to win every game we play. That would be our goal. What Con does, that’s up to them. But we’ll do our part.”