Fade to Break
Heading into last Sunday’s home contest with the Sacramento Monarchs, the Shock boasted a 10-0 home record and a comfortable lead atop the Eastern Conference.
Seven days later, Detroit has lost four in a row, three of them at The Palace. The latest setback was a 76-64 defeat to the San Antonio Silver Stars Sunday.
“We knew two weeks ago we needed the break,” Shock head coach Bill Laimbeer said. “And then the ceiling kind of caved in on us, the injuries and suspensions, and we need the break bad. We knew it was coming, just didn’t think it would collapse this much.”
A victory would have tied the Shock with San Antonio for highest win total at the break with 17. Instead, they’ll spend the next four weeks at 16-11, good for third place in the East, a half-game behind the Connecticut Sun and percentage points behind the 15-10 New York Liberty.
“It was our toughest stretch of the year, there’s no question about that,” Laimbeer said. “Four teams on top of their game and we had to play good basketball and through various circumstances we were unable to get it done.”
The nadir, of course, came Tuesday against L.A., when All-Star forward Cheryl Ford suffered a season-ending knee injury and the Shock drew five player suspensions for their last-minute altercation with the Sparks.
Without the injured Ford and suspended Plenette Pierson, Detroit’s frontcourt was dominated by the Silver Stars Sunday. San Antonio center Ruth Riley, who began and ended her four-year stint in Detroit with championships, scored a season-high 14 points.
“This win gives us good momentum going into the Olympic break,” Riley said. “Also, if we meet again in the finals we know it’s going to be a good matchup.”
Riley, traded away before the 2007 season, missed last season’s game at The Palace with a sprained left foot. But she wasted no time Sunday, knocking down five of her first six shots for 10 first-half points. Riley had scored a total of six points in the past five games, and reached double figures just once all season.
Starting center Ann Wauters also scored 14 for the Silver Stars, and forward Sophia Young, who scored 28 in a July 1 win over the Shock, added 11.
Riley knocked down the last two jumpers of the first half, bringing San Antonio within a point at the break, 35-34. Then the Silver Stars’ All-Star, Becky Hammon, took over. Hammon scored 23 points, all in the second half, on 9-of-18 shooting, including five triples.
“A part of it was I went to a different defensive scheme in the second half and Becky Hammon got off against it, which was a mistake on my part,” Laimbeer said, “so that kind of get her rolling and when she gets rolling they’re a better basketball team, so I’ll take that (blame).”
Hammon’s up-and-under circus shot from 15 feet with 24 seconds left in the third gave San Antonio a 57-49 lead, and seemed to break Detroit’s spirit. She knocked down consecutive 3-pointers early in the fourth to turn a seven-point lead into 13. Shortly thereafter San Antonio seized its largest lead, 16 points.
Playing with the league-minimum eight players for the second straight game, the Shock simply ran out of gas, just as they had in Houston Thursday, when a 35-28 halftime lead turned into an 18-point defeat.
”Very disappointed,” said Shock guard Deanna Nolan, who scored a team-high 25. “The past three or four games the third quarters have been a downer for us. We let teams outscore us. We try to win the third quarter, set the tone for the second half, but we let players get off and we’re not stopping anyone.”
The Shock started off well enough, scoring on second chances for their first two baskets, building a 9-2 lead. Detroit only had six second-chance points the rest of the game, and a 14-3 run gave the Silver Stars a 16-12 lead after the first quarter.
The Shock regained the lead in the second with their own 14-3 run, including seven points from Nolan. Detroit’s All-Star made 10 of 17 shots. The rest of the Shock shot a combined 13-for-14 (29.5 percent).
“We just could not find a way to score,” Laimbeer lamented. “We have our bench, I’m a little disappointed in some of our players right now, and we have to address that.”
Nolan and Katie Smith, who scored 13 but shot 3-for-11, each played 39 minutes. “I just think we’re a tired basketball team, especially our guards,” Laimbeer said. “I’m playing our guards so many minutes.”
The Shock head into the Olympic break with their longest losing streak since dropping the final four games of 2007, when they already had clinched the regular-season conference title. They know they haven’t clinched anything in 2008, however.
“We need this time off. We need to recoup, we need to regenerate,” Laimbeer said. “We need to look at how we do business and we need to practice a lot, hard. Practice time is what we really need right now.”