Playing for another WNBA title has been the ultimate goal for the Detroit Shock this season. But if they plan on challenging for the championship for a third consecutive year, they must first determine their fate in the conference finals.
The Shock hope to eliminate the New York Liberty and earn another chance at the league's crown on Monday, when the teams meet in the decisive Game 3 of the East finals at Eastern Michigan University.
Detroit has reached the WNBA finals three times in the franchise's 11-year history, making the club's inaugural trip and winning the first title in 2003.
Following back-to-back first-round exits in the ensuing two postseasons, the Shock came away with the crown in 2006, but were unable to repeat as champions after falling in Game 5 of the finals last season.
The Shock maintained their hopes of competing for the title for a third straight season, rebounding from Friday's series-opening, 60-56 loss to the Liberty with a 64-55 victory on Sunday.
Deanna Nolan scored 22 points and Katie Smith added 11, while Taj McWilliams-Franklin had six points and 11 rebounds for Detroit as both teams' offenses struggled. The Shock went 23-for-59 (39.0 percent) from the field, while New York finished 22-for-59 (37.3).
The Shock were down seven heading into the fourth, but opened the quarter with an 11-3 run to take a one-point lead with 6:48 to play. They outscored the Liberty 25-9 in the final 10 minutes.
"We played Shock basketball in the fourth quarter, and we started having fun again," Shock coach Bill Laimbeer said. "We just needed to hit a few shots and get things going on defense."
Detroit also received a surprising boost from the return of reserve Plenette Pierson, who had 10 points and four rebounds just seven days after dislocating her shoulder. The league's Sixth Woman of the Year in 2007 and the runner-up for this season's award acknowledged she was in extreme discomfort, but said she was aided by an unorthodox treatment session suggested by Detroit Pistons trainer Arnie Kander.
Despite persistent pain, Pierson hopes to play Monday to give the Shock a chance at the WNBA championship.
"It's still win or go home, and I don't want to go home yet," she said. "It hurt today, and it is going to hurt even more tomorrow, but I'm going to try."
Meanwhile, New York is trying to advance to the league finals for the fifth time in team history and make its first such appearance since 2002 - the last time it won the conference crown.
Shameka Christon scored 16 points and Janel McCarville added nine, but New York managed just three shots in the fourth quarter - all 3-pointers.
"I think we showed our youth," Liberty coach Pat Coyle said. "For three quarters, we played really well, but early in the fourth, we missed some shots and got rattled."
New York and Detroit needed three games to establish the winner of their playoff series last year, with the Shock earning an overtime victory in the final contest to advance to the East finals.
"That was last year, and we aren't thinking about that," Coyle said. "They've got a different team and so do we. We're just going to come back here and try to win."
New York lost three of four to Detroit in the regular season, including two contests at The Palace of Auburn Hills, where the Shock were a conference-best 14-3. However, Detroit's home contests in this series are being played at Eastern Michigan University due to scheduling conflicts.