“We Weren’t Here”
The Shock, who overcame a 16-point deficit at Phoenix this season and another double-digit deficit to win Game 1, were accustomed to such rallies. They were also susceptible to the occasional no-show.
Game 2 was entirely the latter – and now the WNBA Finals are an entirely different series after the Mercury hammered Detroit, 98-70, to even the best-of-five series at a game apiece.
The Shock dropped a home playoff game for the first time since losing Game 1 of the 2006 Finals by 24 points. That had been the Shock’s worst playoff loss ever – until Saturday.
“We’ve been here before. We know it’s a five-game series. We know we’re resilient. We have great heart and will power. I expect us to come out the next game play spectacular,” Shock head coach Bill Laimbeer said. “We don’t handle prosperity very well, that’s been our M.O. Today was a classic example of that.”
Saturday was the perfect storm of the Phoenix’s No. 1 scoring offense firing on all cylinders – they made 16 of 44 triples – and the Shock’s mental and emotional shortcomings.
“It’s tough, but you can minimize their (scoring) runs, but we weren’t here. We weren’t here. In general, just individually, collectively, we weren’t here,” said guard Katie Smith, who scored five points. “Obviously when they got rolling like that and we’re like that … if we’re like that and they’re like this, then this is what you see.”
Injured forward Cheryl Ford played 16 minutes, and played well early with three rebounds in the game’s first three minutes. Frustration plays on her part, however, book-ended the Mercury’s game-breaking run.
Swarmed by Phoenix defenders on the baseline, Ford was called for traveling, and then received a technical foul for arguing. The Mercury, leading 36-30 with three minutes left in the second quarter, ended the half on an 11-2 run, shooting 5-for-5 from the floor. After halftime, Ford – who has not made a 3-pointer in five WNBA seasons (though she did in the 2007 All-Star Game) – attempted a 24-footer from the top of the key. Phoenix forward Diana Taurasi rebounded the miss and quickly made a 3-pointer at the other end, pushing the lead to 21. The game quickly spiraled from there, as Mercury eventually led by 34 points.
“I say probably midway though the second quarter, we just stopped playing for whatever reason,” Laimbeer said. “We had people who were shaking their heads and blowing off the coaches and not executing, walking through our offense. Not running back on defense. And then we put our head down and they spurt to a big lead at the half.”
Taurasi, the All-WNBA forward who had averaged 10 points against the Shock and fouled out of Game 1, broke through with a vengeance Saturday. She scored 30 points on 11-of-20 from the floor – including 7-of-14 from 3-point range. The long ball was less kind to the Shock – a combined 2-for-20 shooting effort.
That was just one of many aspects in which the tables had turned since Wednesday. Mercury center Tangela Smith, outmuscled in Game 1 by Detroit centers, was prolific from the outside, scoring 12 of her 18 points from the 3-point line, but she also had a game-high 10 rebounds, six more than in the opener.
Detroit’s bench – which scored a franchise playoff record 50 points in Game 1 – started the game 1-for-8. Plenette Pierson and Kara Braxton, who each had career nights in the Finals opener, were a combined 6-for-25 from the floor for 15 points.
“Plenette got frustrated for whatever reason,” Laimbeer said. “Her shot wasn’t going in, okay. Didn’t get a call, okay. But to just not continue to compete and to play team basketball, we played individual basketball today and in many areas. And that was our downfall. Was she one of the guilty ones? Yea, but so were a lot of people.”
The Shock lost twice in the 2006 Finals by 20 or more points, but ultimately won the series. Of the five WNBA teams have won a series despite being outscored, three of them have been coached by Laimbeer, including that series and this year’s first round against New York.
“ That’s not a good thing to say, but we have experience with that,” said Pierson, who said she wasn’t frustrated and credited the Mercury’s perimeter shooting for the loss. “We know how to re-focus and get the job done the next game.”
Indeed, nothing gets the Shock’s attention like a bad loss. They have lost by 10 or more points over the last two seasons 14 times – and won the next game 13 times. “Lose by one or by 31 is the same,” Laimbeer said. “That we were able to rest players, maybe that was a positive. But I think that getting beat this badly will make us mad.”