Now, the series heads to Phoenix for Games 3 and 4 on Tuesday and Thursday, but let's get the experts' analysis of what happened today and what will happen as the series heads west.
What happened: We said at the start of this series that this is a contrast of styles: the power game of Detroit versus the run-and-gun-and-fun style of Phoenix. And today, Phoenix played a much smarter brand of basketball in their zone. They were trapping the Detroit bigs in the post every time and just making it extremely difficult for them to get those inside points. They made the Shock earn every one of those inside hoops they got. When they do that, what are they conceding? The perimeter jump shot… and Katie Smith took one shot in the second half. Even though they were missing today, Katie and Deanna Nolan have to stay aggressive, put the ball up on the glass and let your rebounders go and get it. That's their style, and when you get away from your style, you're not playing to your strengths.
What's next: We've already seen that Detroit is at its best when they need to win games. They have some kind of special will or responsibility, maybe, to respond when they have to. Clearly, if they want to get home-court advantage back, they'll need to take one in Phoenix. It would not surprise me to see them come back to their strengths, reclaim the paint with their inside game thanks to some adjustments from the coaching staff. Phoenix tweaked in Game 2 today and now it's Detroit's turn to tweak.
What happened: Unbelievable! Diana showed why she's one of the greatest players that our game has ever seen. This was a performance like those we expect from names like Jordan, Woods, Federer, Cynthia Cooper, Bird and Magic. Consistency is the mark of greatness. But aside from that, Phoenix stepped things up on defense. Paul Westhead made an adjustment so that every time the ball went inside, on the catch, they'd swarm the ball. When they did that, they made the post players make the decision of what they would do next with the ball. And you don't want the post players making that decision. You want Tweety Nolan, Cash or Katie Smith making that call as to where the ball goes next.
What's next: The Shock are really going to have to start knocking down outside shots. And it seems hard to believe that Phoenix can have another game where they shoot this well from the outside, but they've played almost this well for 35-plus games now, so I think they can keep it up. It will also help to be home in front of the amazing Mercury fans, who you know will come out in full force.
What happened: The Mercury hit their shots today and Detroit didn't. That was understandably a big key. Phoenix was incredible from three -- Diana was 7-14 and Tangela Smith was 4-6 -- and Detroit couldn't buy a basket from outside. As soon as Phoenix starting hitting and got the momentum, it was over. Detroit also struggled inside, which was a big difference from Game 1. That makes it even harder down low when your teammates on the perimeter aren't hitting, because that allows the defense to sag down even more.
What's next: For the last couple of years and already in the playoffs this season, Detroit has played its best basketball when it has to. I'd anticipate that they'll come out hungry in Game 3, because Bill Laimbeer was challenging them all game long during timeouts… challenging their effort and their will and their heart. And I think they'll respond to that. They'll come out with a much different attitude and some fire when they get to Phoenix. I think the Mercury can take some momentum from a win like this, but they'll have a hard time sweeping in Phoenix because the Shock seem to play their best when their backs are against the wall.
What happened: Katie Smith told me that lack of defensive pressure was the biggest problem for the Shock today. That's the way a coach or player would probably look at it, but being a fan and a broadcaster, I thought Taurasi was just straight nasty. After just 10 points in Game 1, you knew she wasn't going to go out like that. She had the eye of the tiger from the opening minute of the game and just got in a terrific rhythm. Katie thinks the Detroit defense was the problem, but I think we need to give a lot of credit to the Phoenix offense. They played their game today. Phoenix also set the tone physically. They came out and hit the Shock in the mouth a couple of times. They were diving on the floor and tumbling out of bounds going for loose balls. They showed up today to win, whereas I think Detroit only showed up to play. The Mercury were ticked off with the way Game 1 ended with Cappie and Deanna getting into it, and they came out today with a serious, more physical approach that really took Detroit out of its game.
What's next: I think Detroit can bounce back in this series, but I wouldn't expect it in Game 3. Phoenix will be carrying over a lot of momentum and it will be big for them to return to their home court. Detroit has not won on the road in these playoffs, but I think they have to go there looking for a split. Last year, Detroit was down 2-1 and facing elimination in Sacramento, but they won that game and came back home to win Game 5. I think that kind of scenario is possible again with a Game 5 here next weekend. Detroit is a talented team. They're deep, they're smart and they're well coached. And if they can get a win in Phoenix, probably in Game 4, I think they've got a good shot to repeat.
What happened: The impact of Diana Taurasi today can't be overstated. She wasn't only great offensively with 30 points, but she was disciplined defensively and showed how dominant her team can be when she's a major part of their attack. Also, Detroit missed a lot of shots that they'd usually convert, and even though the Shock got on the glass pretty well, that changed the complexion of the game.
What's next: The games in Phoenix are going to be really interesting to watch, because I think Detroit has some time now to readjust. They'll come back in Game 3 with a renewed focus, probably finish some of those plays and hit some of those shots. And Detroit is a good road team, so it sets up a very interesting Game 3. Of course Phoenix hasn't lost at home in the playoffs -- believe me, I'm well aware of that -- and they'll be carrying some momentum over from today. I wouldn't expect a performance like today's to be duplicated by either side.
What happened: Phoenix made some really nice adjustments to the way they were defending the interior. They doubled down a lot more on the block. Getting more second-chance points after really going toe-to-toe on the offensive boards was another key factor for the Mercury. And then Diana… She told me after Game 1 that she wasn't going to change the way she plays, that she was going to be just as aggressive. But they also looked more comfortable out there today. They were a little tight in Game 1 and shooting faster than they even normally do. But having a couple of days off got them more calm and focused and allowed them to get back to playing the kind of Phoenix ball they'd been playing over the last 20 games or so. They looked like a more confident and aggressive team.
What's next: Heading home, I think Phoenix has a clear advantage in this series right now. They have a lot of momentum. Detroit has to make some changes and they have to figure out what's up with Cheryl Ford, because she clearly was not as effective as she usually is inside. Something also has to give with Katie Smith. For Detroit to have a chance to get back in this series, they have to figure out a way to start knocking down those outside shots again.
What happened: Phoenix really didn't look settled in Game 1, and that probably came from their lack of experience in playing in the Finals. But much like Diana Taurasi in the semifinals of the NCAA Tournament back when she was at UConn, she bounced back after a tough loss and Diana definitely bounced back today. Cappie mentioned that she missed having Diana out on the floor in Game 1 because of her foul trouble, and today she was out there for over 30 minutes and it made a world of difference.
What's next: Detroit's Finals experience will definitely help going into Game 3 on the road. When they were down to Sacramento last year, they regrouped, bounced back and won the title back here in Detroit. Bill Laimbeer will definitely pull from that experience and remind them what it takes to be champions, and that will have his team ready when the series shifts to Phoenix.