Fever Finished Off
Plenette Pierson didn't play, either. And that mattered a great deal in Detroit's 80-61 series-clinching victory.
Her absence inspired the Detroit Shock to play with fury and focus, and within a matter of minutes that combination buried the Fever, who found themselves down 41-10 in the second quarter.
"I thought it added a little more fire to our performance with our sixth man down," said Deanna Nolan, who scored 16 of her 21 points in the first half. "We knew we had to come out with a lot of energy and set the tone."
That the Shock have advanced to the Eastern Conference finals is no surprise, as they will be making their third consecutive appearance. How they demolished the Fever - so completely, so quickly - in an elimination game without Pierson, their third-leading scorer and the league's best bench player, was stunning to all.
"I have to give the Detroit Shock an enormous amount of credit with how they started the game," said Fever coach Lin Dunn. "They lost a tough game here Sunday and they came back with an enormous amount of effort, intensity and absolutely just ran the ball down our throat the first quarter and I did not think we responded well to that."
The Fever didn't sniff a point on their first five possessions, settling for an airball as the shot clock expired, a steal by Taj McWilliams-Franklin, a backcourt violation, a missed 3-pointer and an offensive foul on Tamika Catchings. The Shock led 12-0 out of the gate.
"Every adjustment that we did worked very well. I credit Rick [Mahorn] and Cheryl [Reeve] a lot for the defensive changes that put them in the box early. They didn't really know what happened to them," Shock head coach Bill Laimbeer said. "They couldn't figure it out fast enough."
Timeouts by Dunn didn't stop the Shock onslaught at 6-0 nor after Nolan's triple made it 24-5. The Fever scored a franchise playoff low seven points in the first quarter, trailing 30-7.
A 23-point lead. All without No. 23.
"Man, they played great tonight. They played exactly how the Detroit needs to play every game and has played. I couldn't ask for anything better," said Pierson, who quickly reconsidered her last words. "Wish I could have been out there, but I couldn't."
The Shock had rallied around Pierson since her controversial four-game suspension for the bench-clearing skirmish with Los Angeles July 22. Upon her return, the Shock won six in a row, including Game 1 at Indiana.
Pierson went from league villain to victim in the fourth quarter of Game 2, when she dislocated her right shoulder after locking up with Hoffman for a rebound. The officials initially called a double technical. The league revised that penalty Monday. Not to the satisfaction of anyone with the Shock.
"I think when you lose a player there's a natural thing, you pick your game up to account for the missing player," Laimbeer said. "The way it happened of her being taken down in a violent act, the league response, the pathetic league response, that they gave for a penalty even incensed us more."
Hoffman averted suspension Monday after the league upgraded the foul call on her to a flagrant-2. But the negative attention must have distracted to the 2008 Most Improved Player. She looked nothing like the player of the first two games, when she averaged 17.0 points on 51.8 field goal shooting. Booed from the moment she touched the ball, Hoffman did not score, missing five shots in the first half. She shot only once after halftime.
"I had hoped that it wouldn't bother her. I know she was extremely upset and disappointed that she had been given a flagrant technical," Dunn said. "But I thought with her experience she wouldn't let it bother her that much. But obviously she didn't have the game tonight that she had on Sunday."
For Indiana's Tamika Catchings, it was more bad memories of a Game 3 at The Palace. She missed the second half of last year's elimination game after suffering an Achilles tendon injury. This time, her nightmare came much sooner, when the All-Star forward went scoreless before halftime. She finished with 15 points, eight rebounds and eight assists.
"They attacked us hard on defense and offense," Catchings said. "I give a lot of credit to the Detroit team because they came out tonight and they had determination and we didn't have intensity in the beginning."
Trying to beat the second-quarter clock, Nolan raced down the court virtually unimpeded. Her jumper in the lane put Detroit ahead 49-19 at the break. The 30-point halftime lead was a Shock playoff record.
"We didn't really pay attention to the scoreboard," Nolan said. "We just wanted to get out there and run to get them tired and get some easy looks, get the ball inside and open up a lot of outside shots for me and Katie (Smith) and the other players."
The Fever opened the third quarter on a 12-2 run, even cutting the Detroit's lead to 13. But Smith's only 3-pointer with less than seven minutes left made it 72-48, reigniting the celebration around the Palace.
"We really started the game off well and they made a run but they're a good ball club and you're not going to sit there and blow somebody out," said Smith, who had 15 points. "We came ready to play today."