Back from the Brink
New York forward Janel McCarville extended her hand for a pre-game slap, and Ford barely acknowledged her. It was clear the time for pleasantries was over. It was time to get down to business - and Ford made sure she finished it, making the go-ahead layup on a set play with 44.0 seconds left as the Shock won, 76-73, Sunday afternoon at The Palace.
Ford, who said her rehabilitated left knee felt fine after playing 26 minutes, took a lump on the head during the physical contest. “It’s cool though. It’s what it’s all about. Playoff time,” Ford said. “I love to bang so you’re going to get some bumps and bruises here and there. You just got to keep playing.”
And now the Shock are still playing after being embarrassed by 22 points in Game 1. They will host the Liberty in a winner-take-all contest Tuesday.
Plenette Pierson returned to her reserve role and once again came up big at the end. Pierson made her second clean block of the fourth quarter on Cathrine Kraayeveld’s potential game-tying basket with 6.9 seconds left. “We thought they were going to go for 3s, but they came inside our paint and we’ve been known all year to stop people who come inside our paint, and I just took it upon myself to do whatever was necessary to get a stop,” Pierson said.
Pierson and Ford led a bruising effort by Detroit, which outscored New York in the paint, 44-10. Ford and Pierson each scored 11 points. Ford also grabbed 10 rebounds in her first start since July 20, and Pierson had 12 - including a game-high five offensive rebounds.
“That [offensive rebounding] was very important. We talked about that after the last game,” said Pierson, who had her worst game of the season in the playoff opener, scoring two points. “We didn’t get any second chance points and we knew we had to get some second chance shots so I just ran in there and just luckily came up with five offensive rebounds.
Tied at 27 - the seventh tie of a closely played first half - Detroit scored 10 unanswered, ending the half on a 15-4 run. New York had no points in the paint and no second-chance points before halftime.
“That’s the contrast in the two styles of the teams. We always have a points in the paint advantage, very seldom do we not,” Laimbeer said. “… And they’re a perimeter team, that’s just to the two styles that are clashing right now. So the disparity in numbers in points in the paint, that was a given before the series started.”
Detroit’s lead extended to 17 when Deanna Nolan scored on the Shock’s first three possessions of the third quarter. Nolan scored 14 of her team-high 16 points in the second half, keeping Detroit afloat as New York charged back. “We started the game at a fevered pitch, and the first half was relentless, that was great to see,” Laimbeer said. “Second half, we had a little lull there and we can’t do that. Hopefully we learned a lesson. I predicted before the game happened, I told our players that at some point in this game your heart will be severely tested, and it was.”
The Liberty, who forced overtime at The Palace twice in the regular season, drew even yet again on the strength of nine 3-pointers in the game, four by Liberty forward Chameka Christon. She scored eight points in the fourth quarter, and her 15-footer jumper tied the game 71 with 2:54 to play.
“We weren’t getting to her in transition, she was wide open, she feeling good about herself on the perimeter so she just spotted up out there,” Laimbeer said of Christon, who along with McCarville had a team-high 17 points. “We have to find her early in transition and make sure we get out there and defend her.”
Despite another late scare from New York - the Liberty’s three games at The Palace have been decided by a total of nine points - and a blowout defeat just two days ago, the defending champions sound confident as ever heading into Game 3.
“No,” Ford said when asked if she was nervous the final minute. “We’re at home court with our fans behind us, so what are we nervous for?”
In the 2006 WNBA Finals, the Shock had to win Game 4 at Sacramento in order to force the title-clinching Game 5 in Detroit. It certainly sounded like he believes his team is up to the task again.
“They had their chance to win the series; we could not win the series today. As we have in the past, we have been in this situation before where we had to stave off an elimination game to win the series,” Laimbeer said.
“Now it’s our turn to win the series.”