Sacramento ends Detroit’s undefeated home start

Monarchs Take The Palace

The storyline has played itself out so many times in the Detroit Shock’s favor, it’s easy to forget that another outcome is even possible.

But sometimes, Deanna Nolan’s heroics are not enough.

Despite 27 points from Nolan, the Shock’s fourth-quarter rally against the Sacramento Monarchs came up short, 88-85, at The Palace Sunday evening. In sending the Shock to their first home loss of 2008, the Monarchs earned praise from Shock head coach Bill Laimbeer.

“I thought they played as good as they can play. They played a really good game,” said Laimbeer, who saw his team win at Sacramento by 14 in June. “They made shots, they played very hard. We didn’t play badly, but in the first half we didn’t come with the energy necessary defensively to win the game.”

Trailing by as many as 14 points before halftime and still down nine entering the fourth quarter, the Shock clamped down on the Monarchs in the fourth, holding them to 35.7 percent shooting. Nolan’s 15-footer tied the game with 1:00 left, 82-82, and she made a 3-pointer with 10.8 seconds to pull Detroit within a point, 86-85. But Nolan and Katie Smith each missed 3-point tries in the waning seconds.

“Those were the goodest looks we could have had,” said Nolan, who shot 11-for-24 from the field. “Mine was a great look, just came up short, and Katie’s, you know, was just a little off-target. Can’t ask for two better shots, desperation like that.”

The Shock had been a defensive dynamo en route to their 10-0 home start, holding teams to only 72.3 points per game on 38.2 percent field goal shooting. So when the Monarchs went into the break with 54 points on 54.5 percent shooting (18-of-33), Detroit knew it had dug itself a hole.

“You put too much pressure on making shots at the end of the game, you should take care of business in the first half,” Laimbeer said. “I thought our second half effort defensively was good. I wish I’d had that in the first half.”

Offensively, the Shock started just fine, making five of its first seven shots, building a 12-4 lead. Tasha Humphrey and Nolan opened the game with 3-pointers and finished the first quarter with seven points apiece.

The Monarchs went on a 20-7 run starting late in the first and spilling into the second. Sacramento maintained control until midway through the fourth, when Smith’s 3-pointer with 3:36 left made it a 79-75 game. Smith had 13 points and six assists.

“I thought we were patient toward the end,” Nolan said. “We know that they’re denying (defensively) real hard, you’ve just got to patient and get the ball and run our plays and not worry about their pressure. Just take it strong to the basket.”

Humphrey did just that in giving Detroit its first lead since 16-15. Following a Plenette Pierson missed layup, Cheryl Ford grabbed the rebound but fell suddenly, tossing the ball straight in the air. Humphrey collected it and went up to make it 80-79 with 1:30 to go.

“At that point in the game you’ve got to go for every loose ball, every ball that’s on the floor, you’ve got to dive for it,” said Humphrey, who had 11 points and seven rebounds. “I just think that we got a bucket and they came down and scored. I mean, that’s two good teams going against each other.”

While Ford was still on the ground near the Detroit basket and fans were celebrating Detroit’s comeback, the Monarchs’ Nicole Powell knocked down a 3-pointer from the right wing to make it 82-80 with 1:18 left to play.

Ford, who had the game’s only double-double with 18 points and 10 rebounds, said her tumble had nothing to do with her surgically repaired left knee. “No, I fell on my butt,” she quipped. “They clipped me and they missed it. So, I mean, it happens.”

Several Shock players - including Laimbeer, who drew a technical foul in the second quarter - expressed frustration with the officiating during the Monarchs’ pivotal first-half run. “We’ve been playing through this all season. We’re not going to blame it on that,” Ford said. “We didn’t come focused like we should have been in the first half to win the game.”

The Shock, the WNBA’s last undefeated home team, falls to 10-1 at The Palace and 16-8 overall. “It’s unfortunate we lost a home game, gave one back to the Eastern Conference,” said Laimbeer, whose team still leads the East by two games. “Sometimes a loss can be a good lesson for us. Hopefully it is.”

The Shock host the Los Angeles Sparks Tuesday. The league’s biggest draw, featuring former three-time MVP Lisa Leslie and rookie sensation Candace Parker, has lost four of its last five.

“They made shots in the first half against us out there. They made everything. It got them a little bit of lead and they held on at the end,” Laimbeer said, recapping the 80-73 loss at L.A. June 11. “They need a win very badly and so do we.”