Smith scores 33 on her 34th birthday, eclipsing Swin’s return

Forever Young?

With all the buzz surrounding Swin Cash’s return to The Palace Wednesday night, Katie Smith’s birthday got overlooked.

Not anymore.

The Detroit Shock forward scored 33 points on her 34th birthday, including five crucial points down the stretch, to put away the Seattle Storm, 77-67. It’s Smith’s highest total since 2004 and her most ever in a Shock uniform.

“It’s great, I’m just glad we won on my birthday,” Smith said. “I didn’t really want to go home with a loss. I thought we were being aggressive and were able to bank some shots when needed. Everybody kind of contributed at different points, but I thought our defense really kind of revved up there after the first quarter.”

The Shock looked flat defensively and couldn’t shoot straight in the first 10 minutes, making only 5 of 20 from the floor. The Storm ended the first quarter on a 10-0 run, building a 21-13 lead.

“I don’t think we came out with the intensity necessary to compete every night and win basketball games every night,” Detroit head coach Bill Laimbeer said. “For whatever reason, it was not our best effort, but make no mistake, we’ll take a win.”

Laimbeer dismissed the slow start had anything to do with Cash. The former Shock forward was traded to Seattle in the off-season, ending a six-year stint in Detroit.

“Oh, I don’t think any of that all,” Laimbeer said. “No, I just think that it was one of those days where we just didn’t have the mental intensity necessary that we want to play at. We found it in spurts, we lost it in spurts.”

The Shock found it midway through the second quarter. They ended the first half on a 20-6 run, including eight straight points by Smith, who had 18 at the break.

Detroit went ahead on an exciting sequence started when Plenette Pierson stuffed Swin Cash on a drive into the lane. That sparked a fast break, which Smith turned into a three-point play. The Shock took the lead for good, 33-31, and were ahead by five at halftime.

The crowd cheered wildly when Pierson blocked Cash, but they also gave her an exceptionally loud, positive applause when the former fan favorite was announced during the starting lineups. Cash had a rockier relationship with Laimbeer toward the end of her Detroit tenure. The two did not appear to acknowledge each other.

“I don’t have any hard feeling toward Bill,” Cash said. “It was funny to hear him on the other side. Opponents used to always complain about him saying stuff to them during the game, but to actually hear it down on the other side was kind of funny.”

Cash finished with 10 points and three rebounds, but missed six of nine field goals, including a 3-pointer that would have cut Detroit’s 73-67 lead in half with two minutes to play.

Cash’s turnover to open the third quarter led to a layup by Cheryl Ford, who added a put-back before Seattle could score. Storm guard Sue Bird picked up a technical foul after a timeout, and Deanna Nolan’s free throw gave Detroit a quick 10-point lead.

That lead dipped to three with 2:10 left, as 2007 league MVP Lauren Jackson scored 11 of her team-high 27 points in the fourth.

Then Smith responded. She nailed a 3-pointer, rebounded the Cash miss and hit another 16-footer to make it an eight-point game. Nolan, the only other Detroit player in double figures (14 points and eight assists), delivered a 17-foot dagger with 36 seconds left.

Smith shot 10-for-20 from the field and 10-for-10 at the foul line. Though she’s in her 10th WNBA season, Smith is playing like she did earlier in her career, thinking more as a scorer than a playmaker. That role changed, in part, to compensate for Cash’s departure from the lineup.

“For me [my role] is to come out aggressive, whether it’s just getting my shots or being aggressive and creating for others,” Smith said. “I have to be that way this year. It was just something that, today, was feeling good.”

The Shock (6-1) will leave tomorrow to begin their annual West Coast road trip as the WNBA’s first team to reach six wins.

AfterShocks: Smith was presented with a USA Basketball jersey by team president and CEO Tom Wilson prior to the game. Smith was named to the U.S. Olympic team that will compete this summer in Beijing.

· Though often seen around town in a Red Wings jersey, Detroit Pistons center Rasheed Wallace decided to catch the Shock game courtside rather than Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals on TV.