New York's Shameka Christon and Detroit's Katie Smith will be shooting for a spot in the Eastern Conference Finals in Tuesday's Game 3 at the Palace.
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Not many people thought this series would go three games. Far fewer would have predicted that the upstart Liberty would have the Shock on the verge of elimination as time wound down in Sunday's Game 2. And almost nobody sees the Liberty bouncing back in today's make-or-break Game 3 to upend the defending champs, right?
The Shock certainly don't. By virtue of their league-best regular season record, they earned home-court advantage, and they are full of their trademark confidence heading into tonight's matchup at the Palace. Still, coach Bill Laimbeer realizes his team is lucky to be alive after Sunday's hard-fought three-point victory.
"I told our players that at some point in this game your heart will be severely tested," he said. "And it was. We got down to the point where it was an even ball game in the last minute and the season was on the line. We were fortunate to pull it out."
Katie Smith continued her struggles from the floor despite scoring 12 points in Game 2, but All-Star Deanna Nolan was big as usual for Detroit, posting a team-high 16 points. But Tweety remains wary of overconfidence heading into Game 3.
"I think about (elimination)," she admits. "Then again it's a game that we know we can win. When you're playing against a team that has nothing to lose, it makes it a little more difficult. They're coming out on all cylinders."
Key for the Shock on Sunday was fellow All-Star Cheryl Ford, who had missed nearly a month with a severe knee injury. She scored 11 points, snagged 10 boards and hit the go-ahead layup with 44 seconds left.
"The doctors said my knee would let me know when I need to sit down so I was just going to go out and play hard and see what happens,'' Ford told the Associated Press. "We had our backs against the wall, but we came out with the 'W' and that's all that matters.''
"In New York, it was clear that she was a bit worried about what she could do," said Laimbeer. "But today she was very determined. I think that she didn't think about her injury, she went out and just played and it showed how much we need her on the court. She's still learning how to score after being off for a month, but it's nice to have her back."
Shock sixth woman Plenette Pierson played a huge role in Sunday's win, blocking two New York shots in the closing moments to keep her team alive.
"We've been known all year to stop people that come inside our paint," said Pierson. "I just took it upon myself to do whatever was necessary to get a stop."
The Liberty, on the other hand, only snuck into the playoffs with a win on the last day of the regular season. Having surprised the Shock in New York on Friday and having come back from a 17-point deficit to tie the score before falling in Game 2, did the Liberty let the champs off the ropes?
"I don't feel that way," said coach Pat Coyle. "What they did was what they were supposed to do, which is win on your own floor. They forced a Game 3 and we'll see what happens."
"Being a leader of this team, not one of my teammates had her head hanging low. We fought hard. There are some things that cost us that we can change. The good thing is it wasn't the last game; we've got another one (today). We have to come in and be prepared to do what we need to do."
So what do the Liberty need to do to have a shot against the Bad Girls of the WNBA?
"The thing we can focus on is rebounding," Christon continues. "They had 13 offensive rebounds (in Game 2) and a lot of their shots were second-chance shots. I know at halftime they had like 24 points in the paint and nine offensive rebounds. We just need to control that a little better."
So will it be the upstart youngsters or the experienced defending champs? David or Goliath? We'll see Tuesday night on ESPN2. But either way, Connecticut/Indiana has a tough task ahead in the Eastern Conference Finals.