Deanna Nolan led the Shock is scoring in Game 2, but shot only 6-of-18 from the floor for 12 points.
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Ford herself had three turnovers in the opening quarter and Kara Braxton, after scoring 19 in the Game 1 victory, missed four of her first five shots to set a tone up front that would last all game.
But as much as the Shock rely on their inside game to succeed, they couldn’t have expected Braxton, Plenette Pierson and Katie Feenstra to all duplicate the stellar performances they had on Wednesday. And they couldn’t have counted on Ford, still bothered by a knee injury, to seamlessly return to her All-Star form.
That didn’t happen and now the Shock find themselves knotted with the Mercury 1-1 following a 98-70 loss.
“Our guards stopped shooting,” said Detroit head coach Bill Laimbeer. “Katie Smith stopped shooting. She missed a few shots and didn't shoot anymore. Deanna was frustrated. We weren't physically and mentally there enough to win the basketball game.”
Entering Game 2, Nolan (18.9) and Smith (10.7) along with Pierson (11.1) were the team’s top three leading scorers in the playoffs, accounting for 40.7 points per Shock contest. On Saturday, they totaled 27 points and shot 10-of-36 from the floor (.278).
And it would have been worse if not for some padding in the second half when the outcome had already been decided. In the first 20 minutes, the trio combined for just seven points. Smith, who had 22 points in the opener, took all of her six shot attempts from behind the arc in the first half and made only one. Meanwhile, Nolan hit 2-of-7 field goal attempts (0-of-3 from three-point range) and Pierson was 0-for-5.
None of them attempted a free throw in the first half, which just exemplified the lack of aggression the Shock’s key parts played with on offense Saturday. Only Pierson would end up getting to the line in the second half, shooting twice.
“Our effort and our approach to the game were just not there,” said Smith. “They came out as the aggressors and took advantage of everything.”
It’s been a struggle all postseason for Smith, who entered the contest only shooting 28 percent from the field. After that trend continued in the first half of Game 2, Smith stopped looking for her shot, making just one attempt, and with three minutes remaining in the third Laimbeer pulled her out of the contest for good.
“I wanted to start moving the ball around to see if we could get a better shot or get the ball inside,” said Smith, who finished with just five points. “I just have to keep shooting. It felt pretty good, but a lot of them didn’t drop again.”
Nolan has been quiet ever since her spectacular 30-point effort in the deciding game of the Eastern Conference Finals against Indiana, in which she essentially prevented the Fever from pulling away in the first half by herself.
In the first two Finals games, Nolan has turned in her lowest scoring outputs of the 2007 playoffs. After contributing just 11 points on 3-of-8 shooting in the team’s first game, Nolan did just one better in Game 2, posting 12 on a 6-for-18 shooting afternoon, which included missing all seven three-point attempts.
As a team, the Shock were a dismal 3-of-20 from beyond the three-point line, which did nothing to relieve the pressure on the inept inside game.
“It was a combination of poor shooting and their adjustments to what we did in the first game,” said Nolan when asked why Detroit struggled to score. “The shots weren’t falling tonight and it was making it hard for our first initial pass into the post.”
Ironically, Nolan’s 12 points led the Shock in scoring on Saturday. The only other player in double figures was Swin Cash with 10.
Pierson, the league’s Sixth Woman of Year and typically a model of consistency, especially against the Mercury, never got into any kind of rhythm on Saturday after torching Phoenix for a team-high 26 points in Game 1. In fact, she didn’t score her first bucket until 15 seconds into the final quarter. She would end with six.
According to her coach, Pierson, who didn’t have much to say following the defeat, had a bit of a mental lapse on the court.
“Plenette got frustrated for whatever reason,” said Laimbeer. “She had a little bit of an attitude out there. Her shot wasn’t going in. OK. She didn’t get a call. OK. But to just not continue to compete and to play team basketball… We played individual basketball today in many, many areas. That was our downfall. Was she one of the guilty ones? Yeah. But so were a lot of people, coaches included. We have to all do better.”
The Shock aren’t like the Mercury. If Diana Taurasi turns in a bad performance, like she did in Game 1, she has fellow All-Stars Cappie Pondexter and Penny Taylor there to pick up the scoring slack. They’ve done it all season.
If one of Detroit’s main scorers has an off night, it’s more of a struggle unless everyone plays together and executes the game plan. Detroit got away with Nolan scoring only 11 in the opener because the rest of her team played near flawless basketball.
But Smith argued it’s deeper than scoring woes.
“Overall, it’s our energy and how bad do we want it?” said Smith. “It’s all of us. It’s a group effort. It’s getting back on defense, not allowing them to get rolling and we allowed them to get a little confidence and they took off with it. It’s a total group thing. We can definitely knock down shots, but that would not have made a huge difference in this ballgame. Maybe it would have been a 15-point game and not a 30-point game. It was a lot more than just offense.”