Fourth Quarter Fade
The East’s elite picked up where they left off in last year’s playoff series, and the Liberty again drew first blood at Madison Square Garden, 60-56.
The Shock, who led by six at halftime and entering the fourth, couldn’t capitalize on a horrendous start by the Liberty, who took a 1-0 lead in the best-of-three Eastern Conference finals.
New York, the East’s best 3-point shooting team in the regular season, didn’t hit a triple in the first half (0-for-8). After shooting 29 percent through three quarters, the Liberty aimed true in the fourth, shooting 56.3 percent.
"Well, I thought we played great defense, we had a couple breakdowns in which they kicked out the ball for wide open 3s. It brought them back in the game and gave them momentum,” Deanna Nolan said. “Other than that, we played great defense.”
The Liberty hit 3-of-5 from beyond the arc in the third, setting up the huge fourth quarter. Shameka Christon put New York ahead, 45-43, with 5:30 left. It was the Liberty’s first lead since 8-7.
The Shock expedited New York’s rally by going without a field goal for the first five and a half minutes of the fourth quarter. They were outscored, 24-14.
“In the fourth quarter we made bad decisions offensively,” Shock head coach Bill Laimbeer said. “We didn't get into our sets, walked the ball up the court, and didn't call the right plays. I can't live with the fact that we made mental errors. We pride ourselves in being a smart basketball team and for two and half quarters we played smart and the other one and half we played dumb."
For Detroit it was another episode of “Nolan to the rescue” down the stretch. The All-WNBA guard scored 11 of her 22 points in the final 2:51. Nolan twice hit triples, cutting a four-point deficit to one and a five-point lead to two. She drew a foul and made three free throws to make it a one-point game, 57-56, with 17 seconds left.
Nolan had a game-tying chance with 11 seconds left but her 3-point try from the top of the key sailed left off the rim. She sent Game 2 of the Indiana series to overtime on the same inbounds play.
"It was a play designed for me of course. I got a great look, but I was a little off balance leaning to the left,” Nolan said. “I think if I had my balance, it would have had a good chance of going in."
The misfire summed up an entire night of offensive frustration for Detroit, which scored 41 points in a quarter and a half to eliminate Indiana in Game 3. The Shock took twice as long to hit the 40-point mark Friday. They entered the fourth quarter with a 42-36 lead.
Sidelined with two fouls in the first quarter, Katie Smith didn’t find her groove until the third quarter, when she scored seven of her 13 points. But no one else scored in double figures for Detroit, which never found its rhythm for long. A brief spurt in the late first and early second quarters helped Detroit built a 19-10 lead.
The game’s offensive ugliness worked in New York’s favor. They kept it close by limiting the Shock to only five offensive rebounds in 42 opportunities. The Liberty also edged Detroit in bench points, 17-10, despite an impressive defensive effort from Alexis Hornbuckle, who had seven rebounds, three steals and four points.
Forward Janel McCarville carried New York in the first half, scoring 13 of her 17 points before halftime. "They played us a little bit different than they have all year, than any team has all year. Shooters didn't get the looks that they normally have gotten, and I think it put a lot of pressure on them,” McCarville said. “Obviously, it left me one-on-one at times and we tried to exploit."
The Shock tried to sleepwalk through their 2007 playoff opener at the Garden and lost by 22 points. Laimbeer sounded proud of his team’s mind-set to start the game Friday.
"There was no doubt that was disappointing. We played hard enough to win that ball game, that is the bottom line,” he said. “We had the game under control, and the offense was struggling. We didn't make enough shots to win this game.”
The Shock won the following two games of the ’07 series at The Palace by a combined four points, including a 71-70 overtime victory in Game 3. But this time the Shock won’t face elimination at The Palace. They’ll put their two-year conference reign on the line Sunday at the Eastern Michigan University Convocation Center in Ypsilanti, Mich.
With a shot at a third consecutive Finals appearance at stake, the Shock’s season may rest on the injured right shoulder of Plenette Pierson, who averaged a team-high 16.3 points per game against New York in 2008. Pierson, who dislocated her shoulder in Game 2 of the Indiana series, was on the sideline Friday with her right arm in a sling. She is unlikely to play Sunday, though the possibility can’t be ruled out.