Shock KO'd Fever in 2006, 2007 and 2008

Something’s Got to Give

The Indiana Fever would have been fine in the 2009 Eastern Conference finals without running into the Shock. Detroit has ended their season three straight years in the playoffs, and seizing the first WNBA Finals berth in team history was pressure enough. Avoiding Exit No. 4 to the Shock is just piling on.

Likewise, the Shock could have done without the Fever, the East’s regular-season champion in 2009 with 22 wins. Three of those wins came over Detroit, each in a fashion reflecting no deference to the reigning champs – a win at The Palace, a comeback from 17 down and a 23-point rout.

The alltime series between the Shock and Fever is 18-18, but recent history says somebody should have a big psychological edge when the 2009 Eastern Conference finals tip off at The Palace Wednesday. Which team depends on which history you’re looking at.

“I think we both take it from what we have,” said Shock guard Deanna Nolan, who averaged a team-high 13.8 points against the Fever in 2009. “This is a new season. You can’t say, ‘Oh, well, they beat us 3-1 in the regular season.’ This is a new season for us. But I think it’s going to sit in the back of their head that the past four years, we’ve been the ones to put them out.”

While the Fever could argue All-WNBA forward Tamika Catchings could have swayed at least one meeting in their favor (she couldn’t finish the series in 2006 and 2007 due to injury), the Shock could claim to be victims of lousy timing, as the Fever’s first two wins came during a tumultuous June weekend, June 19 and 21. Rick Mahorn had been head coach of the Shock for just one game, Cheryl Ford was making her season debut after right knee surgery and Kara Braxton was in the midst of a six-game suspension.

What a difference three months makes. Mahorn has a season’s worth of experience and the confidence of leading the Shock back to the conference finals, Braxton is enjoying a career year and Ford is getting stronger as the season wears on. Ford and Braxton combined to average 18.5 points and 17.0 rebounds in the two first-round games against Atlanta’s talented frontcourt. Along with Taj McWilliams – who had a quiet first-round series – the Shock should hold a decisive edge in the paint against Indiana, which ranked eighth in rebounding and 10th in blocks.

Since the Fever handed Detroit its worst loss of the season Aug. 15 – an 82-59 drubbing at Conseco Fieldhouse – the Shock have gone 11-3, including a 70-63 overtime win over Indiana. Nolan isn’t sure the Fever, which ended the regular season 3-7, can raise their game in a similar fashion.

Katie Douglas led the league in scoring after the All-Star break.
Ron Hoskins (NBAE/Getty)
“I think we’re playing harder, we’re playing smarter, we’re playing a lot better than in the first two or three previous times we met them in the in the regular season, so they’re going to see a different team,” she said. “When you look at them, we’re going to expect to see the same thing they’ve been giving us.”

Which, if you’re Indiana, isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Led by a healthy Catchings – whose 99 steals came up one shy of tying the WNBA single-season record – the Fever have coalesced into one of the league’s top defensive teams. Indiana forced the most turnovers in the league, nearly 19 per game, including 373 steals, 72 more than other team.

“I think they’re playing harder on the defensive end,” Nolan said. “What they really rely on is their defense – getting steals, getting out and running in transition and also offensive rebounding.”

Shock head coach Rick Mahorn agreed. “Look at their defense,” he said. “Their defense is very aggressive, and we just have to prepare ourselves for a long, 40-minute battle. You’ve got Catchings who’s playing like she’s an MVP candidate and you have [Katie] Douglas, who was also scoring well before she got hurt, so they’ve got a very good team.”

Douglas, who led the WNBA in scoring after the All-Star break, missed two games due to a sprained ankle but scored 19 and 13 points in the two first-round games against Washington. Douglas averaged a team-high 18.7 points on 62.1 percent shooting against Detroit this season.

Just as Catchings is the catalyst on defense, Douglas sparks Indiana’s offense, for what it’s worth. The Fever averaged a franchise-record 76.6 points per game, but that ranked just eighth in the league, and they were last in field-goal percentage.

The Fever’s style of play promises a much different series for Detroit than it saw in the first round against Atlanta, a young team that routinely scored in the 90s and allowed as many points as it scored. With neither team expected to reach 94 points, as the Shock did in both games against the Dream, Mahorn insists his team must “win the hustle battle” against Indiana.

“They’re a very experienced team and they like to play very physical,” he said.

Experienced? Very physical? Sounds like another team Mahorn knows pretty well.