Shock must win without Pierson to extend season

Reversal of Fortune

Tamika Catchings hasn’t finished a series-clinching game against the Shock the past two postseasons. A concussion knocked her out of Detroit’s Game 2 win in the 2006 conference semifinals; a torn Achilles tendon ended her 2007 Eastern Conference finals just before halftime of Game 3.

Catchings tied that game before she went down; without her the Fever went scoreless for five minutes and were routed in the second half. The Shock breezed to another Finals berth.

Sunday, Indiana’s do-everything All-Star made sure she got another shot at finishing off the Shock, delivering 27 points, 10 rebounds and three assists in the Fever’s 89-82 Game 2 victory, setting up a decisive Game 3 at The Palace Tuesday.

“I thought tonight she was a real warrior. In crunch time she wanted the ball, she wanted to get to the free throw line. And I think last year was really disappointing when she got hurt and it was a blow to the whole team,” said Fever head coach Lin Dunn, an assistant on Brian Winters’ staff last season.

“Anytime you can win in Detroit you know it’s a big game. It’s a great experience.”

Now it’s the Shock’s turn to overcome a staggering loss with the season on the line. Key reserve forward Plenette Pierson is unlikely to play Tuesday after locking arms with Fever forward Ebony Hoffman for a rebound midway through the fourth quarter. When the play ended, Pierson had to be helped off the floor and spent the rest of the game on the bench with her right arm in a sling. Laimbeer described Pierson’s injury as a shoulder problem, adding that he did not expect her to play “in the next game for sure.”

Laimbeer was livid that a double-technical foul was assessed on Pierson and Hoffman for the play– and went as far as to question the WNBA’s integrity if Hoffman was not suspended for Game 3. Without Pierson, who was leading Detroit in scoring, rebounding and assists when she exited, the Fever capitalized in overtime with 3-pointers from Hoffman and Tully Bevilaqua to clinch the contest.

“I thought they played the best they could play,” Laimbeer said of the Fever. “They made shots, especially 3-balls. What really was the outcome of the game was them making the long 3-balls for the extra point, and our inability to get our bigs involved in the game. … That was discouraging. Nolan never got on track, and then we lose Plenette on a flagrant situation.”

Rare is the night that the Detroit Shock’s frontcourt and its superbly consistent All-Star Deanna Nolan shoot like there’s a lid on the basket. When it happens, the two-time defending conference champions don’t even look like a playoff team.

So imagine the Fever’s discouragement when Nolan finally hit pay dirt Sunday, sending Game 2 to overtime with a triple from the top of the key, capping a 29-point Shock fourth quarter.

“The whole game I was out of rhythm pretty much, missing wide-open shots, so to hit that, hopefully, I thought, was a momentum shifter on our part,” said Nolan, who came crashing to earth after shooting a heavenly 72 percent from 3-point range (16-of-22) in her prior four playoff meetings with Indiana. Nolan shot 5-for-19 Sunday, including 2-of-9 from 3-point range.

Not that the Fever were shooting the lights out from the field, either. They shot 25 percent in the second half, including 3-of-17 from inside the arc. Their saving grace was incredible foul shooting and timely 3-pointers.

Both teams shot over 90 percent at the foul line, combining to make a WNBA-record 43 consecutive free throws. But the Fever had a 36-16 advantage in free-throw attempts after halftime, including a 7-0 benefit in overtime.

“I thought the difference in the game was the free throw line,” Dunn said. “We were able to attack in the paint, we were able to attack on the dribble-drive and the pass, and the free throws were huge for us. And then the other thing was that we stepped up and hit 11 threes.”

While Indiana’s perimeter game contributed at key times, Detroit’s inside game provided nothing close to the presence it had in Game 1. When forward Taj McWilliams-Franklin went to the bench with her fourth personal foul early in the third, Detroit mustered only eight points in the quarter, and the Fever entered the fourth with their largest lead, 55-46.

With Pierson injured and McWilliams-Franklin restricted by fouls, center Kara Braxton had to play down the stretch. She regressed after a promising series opener, committing five fouls and five turnovers while shooting only 3-of-8 from the floor for six points. “Kara couldn’t get it going. Taj got in foul trouble and those are our two primary weapons on the inside and that was difficult for us to overcome, internally in ourselves,” Laimbeer said. “And we have to do better.”

Laimbeer, in a word, expects they will. Even without Pierson.

“I expect our team to come out and play much better than we did (Sunday). More focused. I expect our bigs to be involved in the game. I expect Kara to come and play well. I expect our bench to play better than they did today. I expect a lot of things out of our ball club. I expect us to win the basketball game, no doubt about it,” he said resolutely.

“(Indiana) may play great again, that’s OK. We’ll play better.”