Laimbeer: Suspend Hoffman
Unfortunately, it will be how she left the game that the media and fans will focus on between now and tip-off of Tuesday's decisive Game 3, a contest that Pierson in all likelihood will watch in street clothes from the bench. And as much as Shock head coach Bill Laimbeer lobbied for it in his postgame press conference, there has been no indication that WNBA officials will be among those reviewing the frenetic sequence to determine if someone else should sit out the game, too.
Once again, Pierson got locked up with the wrong player in the wrong fashion late in a hotly contested fourth quarter.
Once again, Pierson fell the floor, and everyone else in The Palace of Auburn Hills stood up in alarm.
There ends the parallels between what happened Sunday and the July 22 skirmish with the Los Angeles Sparks, which led to multiple suspensions, none longer than the four games served by Pierson, whom the league deemed “the aggressor.”
What concerns Laimbeer is that the "aggressor" label seems to have stuck to Pierson, making her somehow partially culpable for the WWE takedown move delivered by Indiana's Ebony Hoffman. The Fever forward was not ejected, nor called for a flagrant foul, and ultimately made the final go-ahead triple with 1:29 left in overtime of Indiana's 89-82 victory.
What happened, and whether there was intent, is a little more difficult to ascertain than it was in July. There was no face-to-face confrontation this time, as there had been when Pierson charged the Sparks’ Candance Parker. With the Shock trailing 64-60, Hoffman and Pierson, both 6-foot-2, battled for position at the top of the paint, anticipating a long rebound on Katie Smith’s 3-point attempt. The two players had their backs to each other, with Hoffman’s arms wound around Pierson’s. The ball went in, making it a one-point game. What happened next depends on who you hear it from:
Shock guard Deanna Nolan: “I saw it as, shot went up, P (Plenette) went to box out, they got tangled. But at the same time, when the ball went through, you should have been able to let go, for both players. Ebony kept bending and riding her. She (Pierson) already yelled the first time, and she (Hoffman) kept going.”
“I just think we got tangled up,” said Hoffman, who had 15 points and a game-high 12 rebounds. “Nothing was intentional on either side, and unfortunately she had to go out of the game, so that’s what happened.”
Pierson said in a released statement, “Ebony grabbed one arm and I turned to the basket and that’s when she hooked the other arm and bent forward.”
When it was over, Pierson had to be helped off the floor, her face stained with tears and her right shoulder braced by team trainer Laura Ramus. Laimbeer called it a “shoulder problem” that should keep her out of the decisive Game 3 Sunday. Game 2 proceeded with only a double-technical foul assessed on Pierson and Hoffman, a decision by the officials that Laimbeer labeled “disturbing.”
“For Plenette to get a technical foul on that play when they have literally attempted to injure her - and if you watch the replay it’s blatant - how can, we don’t understand how they can continue to bash the Shock like that,” said Laimbeer, who has long felt his team suffers from his association with the “Bad Boys” identity of the 1980s Pistons.
“Their mind-set is, the Shock must have done something wrong. And if there isn’t a suspension in this one, then we know where we stand.”
Pierson, the WNBA’s Sixth Woman of the Year in 2007 and a leading candidate to win the award again in 2008 despite the suspension, had played exceptionally well in the six games since her return, avoiding anything resembling Sunday’s incident.
“I feel bad for Plenette, she plays so hard, and because of the incident she had before, she’s out there, model citizen, doing everything she can to win a basketball game and to have somebody, allow somebody to take her down like that, injure her, for maybe the rest of the year now, that’s wrong,” Laimbeer said. “And then to blame Plenette for the action like they did, that’s embarrassing.”
Hoffman, who was celebrated with one of the league’s feel-good awards prior to the series opener when she was named the WNBA’s 2008 Most Improved Player, has no past indiscretions like Pierson. The fifth-year forward said she’s not expecting any serious disciplinary action.
“No, I mean, they’ll review it and see that both of us were just going for the ball and they’ll do what they need to do,” she said. “I’m sure we’ll get fined or maybe they’ll rescind it but it comes with playoff basketball. People get hurt, emotions fly, tempers get heated.”
If Hoffman’s right, Laimbeer - a masterful motivator - can again play the “they’re all against us” card. And whether he’s right or not, he won’t be lacking for evidence that his locker room would believe. This against-all-odds mentality helped motivate the Shock to two WNBA titles. Now, he might have to hope it’s enough to rally a Pierson-less squad out of the first round.
“Do I expect her to be suspended? I don’t know,” Laimbeer said. “That was pretty brutal …so it was pretty clear that she was the aggressor of the action, and now we have a player hurt. Let’s see what happens.”