The defending WNBA champion Detroit Shock rolled to the league's best record this season, giving them home-court advantage throughout the playoffs. They'll need that accomplishment to pay immediate dividends if they want to avert a very early exit from the postseason.
Detroit seeks to avoid elimination and even the best-of-3 series with the New York Liberty in the Eastern Conference semifinals when the teams meet Sunday at The Palace.
The Shock finished with a 24-10 regular season mark but ran into problems after clinching the top overall seed, dropping their last four games. The slide stretched into the playoffs Friday, as the Shock were routed 73-51 by the Liberty at Madison Square Garden.
Deanna Nolan scored a team-high 16 points on 8-of-18 shooting for Detroit, but was the only starter in double figures as the remaining four combined to shoot 16.7 percent (4-for-24) from the field. Shannon Johnson had 11 points and Ivory Latta 10 for the Shock, who turned in their lowest-scoring effort of the year.
It was also the fewest points Detroit has scored in postseason play.
"We didn't play basketball," coach Bill Laimbeer said. "We didn't want it, basically. New York definitely wanted it more than us, but didn't want it at all. That was discouraging. ... We didn't have the desire to compete."
Detroit suffered its worst playoff defeat since a 95-71 loss to Sacramento in last year's WNBA finals. The Shock could not find an offensive spark despite the return of All-Star Cheryl Ford, who had been out since July 21 with cartilage damage in her left knee. She came off the bench and played nearly 11 minutes Friday, but was held scoreless and finished with four rebounds. Ford has averaged 10.0 points and 11.2 rebounds in the playoffs.
"We deserved to lose, and there are no ifs, ands or maybes about it," Laimbeer said. "We were dysfunctional out there, offensively, defensively, combinations, you name it. We just weren't better."
Unlike the Shock, the Liberty surged into the playoffs, winning three straight and six of nine to close the regular season and earn the conference's final postseason berth.
Making its first playoff appearance since 2005, New York got 16 points and a franchise playoff record-tying 15 rebounds from Shameka Christon in the lopsided Game 1 victory.
"We were just out there to play hard and focus on the things that we do really well," Christon said, "and on the little things that have made us really successful."
Cathrine Kraayeveld and Janel McCarville each had 13 points for New York, which earned its first home postseason victory since beating Detroit 66-64 on Sept. 28, 2004 - giving them a 2-1 first-round series win.
"All we did (Friday) was what we were supposed to do," Liberty coach Pat Coyle said. "You have to protect your home floor. It is one game, and that is all it is. We will get the tape and make some adjustments. When we go out to Detroit, we will tweak some things and do what we need to do."
If Detroit can force a Game 3, it will be Tuesday at The Palace. The Shock were 12-5 there this year, tied with Indiana and Phoenix for the best home record in the league.