Now, the series heads to an enormous Game 4 on Thursday here in Phoenix, so let's get the experts' analysis of what happened today and what will happen as the series heads to a pivotal fourth game.
What happened: I thought Deanna Nolan and Katie Smith had to hit shots for Detroit to win. In Game 2, Phoenix successfully decided they were going to take away the inside and would concede jump shots. The only way you can get a team out of that defensive shell is to make perimeter shots. It was a great gamble by Phoenix because neither Smith nor Nolan had shot the ball well in the first two games of the series, but as we expected they might, when the Shock needed them, they made shots. That's why many consider them to be the best backcourt in the league.
Phoenix is a running team and there are a couple of ways you can stop transition.
One is by rebounding the ball, and the Shock did really well on the offensive
boards. Another change in Detroit's scheme was that they'd walk the ball up
the floor a little more regularly in an attempt to slow the pace to where they
wanted it. That slows the pace, and that makes Phoenix uncomfortable, especially
against a team like Detroit.
What's next: The key for Phoenix is making shots. This team sometimes lives and dies with the three, and tonight their shots just didn't go down. I think they missed their last 11 shots. Maybe it has something to do with Detroit's experienced players stepping up to make shots, while Phoenix's less experienced players had trouble closing out games and hitting shots when they needed to. One has been there, the other hasn't.
What happened: You have to make shots! Phoenix missed 47 shots from the floor tonight. That one possession where the Mercury had five straight offensive rebounds was a perfect description of how tonight went for Phoenix. The effort was there and they were so close, but they just couldn't put it home. Give Detroit credit for pushing the defense and being more aggressive, but if you're Phoenix and you're getting overplayed so much, you have to try cutting backdoor to keep the defense honest. Phoenix is a team that outscores you and this game always to me had the feel of a Detroit-style game. If the Mercury aren't getting fast-break points and beating the defense down the floor, they're not playing their game and Detroit's physical defense can stop them in the half-court.
I also thought it was big that Laimbeer slid Katie Smith to the wing and put Elaine Powell into the starting lineup. Getting Smith, one of the best scorers the women's game has ever seen, back to her natural position was so important. She's a solid point, but she's a superstar at the two or three. The addition of Powell also made them a little bit smaller and quicker, but it made their bench deeper too, because they were then able to bring three monsters off the bench.
What's next: I think the Mercury will stay confident. And I feel like it's a game of cat and mouse between the two coaching staffs. Paul makes an adjustment with his defense in Game 2, then Bill makes an adjustment with his lineup in Game 3. The pressure is squarely on Phoenix again, so we'll see what's up Westhead's sleeve. I think they have to play at a higher level defensively and they'll have to do a better job of finding Katie Smith.
What happened: Detroit did exactly what they needed to do tonight. Bill knew they'd be better if they got into their sets and slowed it down a little bit. In fact, he told me before the game he was going to have his guards inbound the ball so his bigs could have a little extra time to get down the court. They were successful down low early on with some duck-ins and high-low passes, and that opened things up for Katie Smith and Deanna Nolan from the outside.
You should know better than to ask me about Phoenix -- I covered the East all
season long! But it still amazes me that they're able to play at the pace they
do. But tonight, Phoenix's bench wasn't involved at all -- only two reserves
saw the court -- and Detroit's has been far more productive.
What's next: Phoenix will adjust. They'll watch the film and say, "We could have run here, we could have run there." Being home will also help and they're going to feed off this crowd. I'll be very surprised if we're not back in Detroit this weekend. I feel like this series is going five.
What happened: The style tonight seemed to favor Detroit, but the final was 88-83, so it was obviously pretty fast paced. In their half-court, Detroit was able to grind it out, work for the shots and hit the boards, and when Phoenix got it, they were running. Phoenix wasn't ready to handle Detroit in Game 1, Detroit wasn't ready to handle Phoenix in Game 2. Now both sides have made adustments and I thought each team played its game pretty well tonight.
Phoenix was unconscious from three in Game 2, but they were 5-31 from long range tonight. The Mercury also missed about five point-blank layups tonight where players were almost alone in the gym and missed the shots. If any of them go, it could have been a different game.
But Detroit's experience showed tonight. They looked down the eye of the shotgun, stared at it and laughed at it. If Phoenix had a little more experience, if they had been here before, those shots would have gone done. I really thought tonight was a classic. There haven't been too many better basketball games than the one we saw tonight.
What's next: I think the shots are going to go down for Phoenix in Game 4. If they'd gone down tonight, they'd be the ones looking to close things out in Game 4. If the Mercury lose this series, they'll look back to tonight's game and say they should have made more open shots. But the Shock haven't performed well in the postseason when they have a bit of a cushion, so it's totally unpredictable. I don't think Detroit handles prosperity well... that goes for the Pistons, too. When they get up in a game or in a series, they exhale. Maybe it's arrogance, maybe it's thinking they have their finger on the switch. And if Detroit comes out with that mentality in Game 4, they're gonna get killed. They came to Phoenix to get a win and send the series back to Detroit. And they already got that job done. So I think Phoenix is going to win big in Game 4.
What happened: Phoenix relies so much on the fast break and the three and tonight, except for brief flurries here and there, Detroit did a great job of not allowing them to get out in transition and getting out to contest every shot. Sometimes you put together a game plan that you think will work, but to go out and execute it the way they did is very impressive. I thought Katie Smith was great at both ends of the floor, especially with the tough assignment of having to guard Diana. Then, on the offensive end, she spread out the Phoenix defense by making shots more consistently than in previous games. But this is what championship teams do. They responded well after getting blown out at home in the previous game.
The third quarter tonight was as well played as any quarter I've seen played in a while. It was two heavyweights just slugging it out. Diana's an emotional player. It's not just the shooting, the ball-handling or the passing. She just has a way of inspiring others and there haven't been many players like her. Tonight Detroit was the better team, but from an emotional standpoint, it seems sometimes like Diana will take you on one on five.
What's next: When Phoenix watches the film from tonight, they'll probably realize that they didn't rotate as well in their defensive zone as they had in Games 1 and 2. They gave Detroit an awful lot of open shots. To Detroit's credit, they made those shots, but Phoenix will be looking to run and get out more, use their quickness and use their fast break to their advantage. And come Thursday, I think the Mercury are going to have to move the ball better than they did tonight and hit more open shots. But if Phoenix continues to miss shots early in Game 4, they may start doubting themselves because, unlike the Shock, they haven't been here before. I'm anxious to see the game.
What happened: It was a close game, but the Mercury shot poorly, especially in the first half, while Detroit shot unusually well. There was that one possession, too, where the Mercury got offensive rebound, offensive rebound, offensive rebound, but they could not convert at what was a really critical time of the game. If they had hit just one of those threes, it could have changed the entire course of the game.
The Mercury really stuck right with the Shock even though they weren't on top of their game, but they couldn't get over the hump. And people remember the possessions near the end of the game and say, "Oh, that one really made a difference," but the Mercury had a bunch of opportunities for layups or close shots that they missed earlier in the game. Had they converted earlier on when they had the chance, they might not have been down the entire game.
What's next: I think that the longer this series goes, the more it benefits the Mercury, mostly because they're conditioned to go up and down and run and run whenever they have the chance. If you look at Detroit's posts, they're gasping for air when they're running up and down to hang with the Mercury. But Detroit likes controlling the pace and they did that here tonight.
But I think Phoenix will shoot much better in Game 4, and I wouldn't expect Detroit to shoot as well as they did tonight. Diana struggled in Game 1 and was a monster in Game 2. She didn't have a great night tonight, and I expect big things on Thursday. She's a winner -- just like Cappie -- and their team is full of fierce competitors.
What happened: Tonight was about Katie Smith stepping up for Detroit. Deanna Nolan has been pretty good throughout the playoffs, but tonight was about Smith because she has not been producing consistently in the playoffs. We all know Detroit can rebound, we all know they have size and strength inside. But their perimeter shooting has been inconsistent. Just like in Game 1, Phoenix didn't make shots tonight. And while Detroit missed shots in Game 2, they were very solid tonight.
What's next: Phoenix better hope its shooting touch comes back. There's only one day between the games, so there's no travel and no one's going to gain any advantage there. Thursday should be a toe-to-toe game. The Mercury will spell comeback T-A-U-R-A-S-I. I think she'll come back and have a huge game in Game 4, just like she did in Game 2 after a poor Game 1.