1) The Shock can not continue the customary slow start.
The flow of each Shock game has followed a general pattern: virtually comatose at tipoff, the Shock make a late flurry to keep the game close in the first half, followed by a terrific third quarter that – against most teams – puts Detroit in the driver’s seat.
On Friday, the Shock started 2-for-9 from the field and trailed 15-6, their largest deficit until the final score. They ended the first 4-for-6 and made it a two-point game. The game was neck and neck from there. It may not have cost them Game 1, but it didn’t help their cause to play catch up against an opponent with veterans who know how to close out games (something they didn’t have to worry about against New York).
“We come out a little less aggressive than we wanted to be, and it takes a few minutes to get into the game,” said forward Plenette Pierson, who once again picked the team when she entered the game. “I think that’s going to be the key the rest of the series, is us coming out aggressive, from the locker room, timeouts, throughout the game. It’s a 40-minute game and we have to play aggressive for 40 minutes.”
2) The Shock must even up the free-throw discrepancy – and then make them.
The Fever went 8-for-8 from the free throw line in the first half while the Shock shot 3-for-8. The Shock’s customary slow start also cost them early fouls; center Katie Feenstra had two fouls before the team even scored and played only nine minutes.
Detroit took their first lead of the game, ever so briefly, early in the third quarter. Over the next nine minutes, the Fever shot 19 free throws, making 13. Detroit was 3-for-5. The discrepancy negated any chance for the Shock to make its customary third-quarter run. “Indiana was in the penalty early in the third and fourth quarter,” Shock head coach Bill Laimbeer said. “It took away our aggression early. It was too much to overcome.”
For the game, Indiana virtually doubled up the Shock in free-throw attempts, 33-17, and outscored them by 18 points from the line. Laimbeer wouldn’t comment on the officiating – the technical foul on assistant coach Cheryl Reeve with 1:41 left in the game said volumes – but he did comment on his team making only eight of their attempts, a paltry 47.1 percent
“W talked about it before the game, how important free throws are. We just lost our brain a little bit,” Laimbeer said. “It was like the whole day was an exercise in frustration for us. Missing free throws is also frustrating; it only compounds the whole thing. And that’s just the way it went today.”
The Shock were the third-worst free-throw shooting team during the regular season (75.8 percent), and free-throw attempts were a concern in the New York series as well. Detroit usually compensates for it with bruising inside game, but they won’t be able to bully around Indiana, which has the size to match them.
3) The Shock must slow Tamika Whitmore and Tamika Catchings.
The Shock outplayed Indiana in the second quarter, but Tamika Catchings and Tamika Whitmore combined to score all 18 Fever points in the second quarter. At halftime they were the only players in double figures, as Catchings finished with 22 and Whitmore 18 off the bench. Both have had big games in the past against Detroit, including a playoff-record 41 points by Whitmore in last year’s playoffs.
Friday night, Whitmore struck again after Detroit made it 66-63 game with less than three minutes left. She scored on two straight possessions, once after her shot was blocked, to make it a seven-point game and essentially clinch the Fever win.
“Big-time players are going to make shots. Tamika Catchings and Tamika Whitmore are both big-time players,” Pierson said. “You can’t stop them from scoring. They’re going to score their points, you just have to minimize how many points they score and how many rebounds they get.”
The Fever made a lot of off-season changes to compete with the Shock, but they didn’t make much difference Friday. The other six Fever players shot a combined 8-for-36 from the field – 22 percent. “We just have to try make other people put the ball on the floor and score and make baskets,” Pierson said. “That’s going to be the key to the next game.” Still, shutting down the other Fever players won’t be enough.
4) Plenette Pierson must continue to play at the top of her game.
On the bright side, the WNBA’s Sixth Woman of the Year couldn’t do more than she did Friday (except, like her teammates, make more free throws; she was 2-for-5). Pierson scored a team-high 19 points on 8-for-21 shooting, had 10 rebounds (five offensive), four blocks and three assists.
Pierson not only shot a season-high 21 times, she took big shots and made them. The Shock drew even for the time in the first half on Pierson’s buzzer-beating triple – only the second 3-pointer of her career. Pierson’s up-and-under move in the first minute of the second half gave Detroit its first lead, 34-33, but she missed the free throw. She scored 11 of her 19 in the tightly contested third quarter. In the end, Indiana’s bonus free throws and Whitmore’s clutch shooting made Detroit’s early deficit loom large at the final buzzer. “All I could think about was getting the team back in the game, and hopefully that was a booster,” Pierson said of the 3-pointer. “But it wasn’t enough.”