Tamika Catchings, center, struggled inside for the Fever in Game 2 against Detroit's posts and will have to be at her best Monday in Game 3.
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This is what we've been waiting for. The beasts of the East. Mano a mano. Catchings vs. Ford. Nolan vs. DeForge. One coach's quiet confidence vs. the other coach's… ahem… animated support. Been-there playoff experience and swagger vs. not-quite-been-there-but-really-want-to-be enthusiasm. All for a spot in the Finals.
Detroit bounced back from a Game 1 defeat in Indiana to claim Game 2 77-63 at home on Sunday, setting up a decisive Game 3 Monday. And after losing the opening game in the first round to the Liberty before claiming Games 2 and 3 at the Palace, the Shock are hoping that this pattern will hold.
"This team just responds," pointed out forward Swin Cash, who posted 12 points and 10 rebounds in Sunday's Game 2 triumph. "It's good and bad. When our backs are against the wall, we come out fighting."
"Push comes to shove, everybody shows up," agreed All-Star guard Deanna Nolan, who scored a game-high 24 points to go with six rebounds and five assists. "Everybody knows what the consequences are if we lose."
Playing at home has been another major factor for the Shock, who despite being 0-2 on the road in the postseason moved to 3-0 on their home court.
"Been here, done that before," said Detroit coach Bill Laimbeer after Sunday's triumph. "All we've done is what we're supposed to do and win our home games. We played all year long for the opportunity to win at home and we did that tonight and we have another game at home [on Monday]."
"We knew it wasn't going to be easy to come to Detroit and win," said Fever coach Brian Winters. "They're the champions from last year and until somebody knocks them off they're still the champions. They're playing at home, we knew they'd come back and play a better game today than they played the other night in Indianapolis."
Key on Sunday, however, was the Shock's clear advantage on the boards, where Cash, Plenette Pierson, Cheryl Ford and Katie Feenstra dominated as Detroit pulled down 44 rebounds, doubling Indiana's total of 22.
"We got out-rebounded pretty good," said Winters. "Whenever you out-rebounded by the margin we got out-rebounded by, it's generally not a good day for you."
So why did Tamika Catchings, Tammy Sutton-Brown and Sheri Sam have so much
trouble on the boards?
"I wish I had the answer for that," said Sam. "They're a great rebounding team. They lead the league in rebounding. ... They did what they do best, which is attack the boards."
Catchings, an All-Star forward and MVP candidate before missing 13 games with a foot injury, was not at her best in Game 2. The Fever leader posted just seven points and four rebounds in 27 minutes on the court, well below her 22 and 11 in Game 1. Anna DeForge, who averaged 25.0 ppg in the first round against Connecticut, scored just 13 on Sunday.
Forward Tamika Whitmore, who scored a playoff-record 41 points in a game against the Shock last year, had 10 points at halftime on Sunday, but managed only two in the second half as the Shock defense clamped down.
"But tomorrow's a new day," said Winters. "We just have to rebound the ball better and play better against their zone."
Aside from a healthy Catchings leading the way, DeForge and Whitmore will have to be on top of their games and Sutton-Brown will have to be more of a presence down low against Detroit's plethora of bigs.
"We're going to have to go out there and play 40 minutes," Sam concurred.
"We want to win. We want to go to the WNBA Finals. [We] have to come out
tomorrow with that attitude."
But it won't be easy against the defending champions, especially in Detroit, says Laimbeer.
"We went though all kinds of trials and tribulations during the course of the season to earn the right to have that game at home."
"We believe that we can win another championship back to back," said Cash. "We did all the work all year long to give ourselves the opportunity to win at home and we have the best fans in the WNBA. They just push us."
Whichever side pulls out a Game 3 victory, the winner will face off against Diana Taurasi, Cappie Pondexter, Penny Taylor and the Mercury, who have yet to lose in the 2007 playoffs. But neither Detroit nor Indiana is thinking about that yet. They need one more win first.