Liberty Locked Down
Nolan scored all 14 of her points in the first half, while Pierson scored 17 of her 25 points after halftime, helping Detroit fend off an improbable comeback by New York.
“We struggled to score in this game,” Shock head coach Bill Laimbeer said. “That was a little nerve wracking at the end there, but overall we’ll take the win. We’ve played the most games in the season so far and we’re 4-1 and that’s pretty good.”
The Shock tied a franchise record by holding the Liberty to six points in the first quarter, building a 17-point lead before halftime. The Shock doubled up the Liberty, 54-27, in the last minute of the third quarter. New York was shooting 20.8 percent (10-of-48) entering the fourth.
“We knew when we went to Atlanta we didn’t play our greatest defensive game,” Pierson said. “We just wanted to show (that effort) tonight and really show that we know how to play defense and tune in and that’s exactly what we did.”
When the Shock lead shrunk to 58-52 with 5:22 left, Pierson’s bank shot pushed the lead back to eight. Then, with their half-court offense sputtering, Detroit pulled away with multiple fast breaks. Pierson found Alexis Hornbuckle for a layup, and the rookie guard returned the favor two possessions later as Pierson scored in transition.
When Kara Braxton converted a three-point play after Elaine Powell found her ahead of the pack for another layup, and the Shock were back in control, 69-54.
“We just came out of that timeout [at 5:17] and just said, get a couple stops, get a couple baskets at the other end and we did just that,” said Pierson, who fell one point shy of the career high she set as rookie in 2003. She made 11 of 16 shots, and also grabbed five of Detroit’s six offensive rebounds.
Besides the occasional grimace, Nolan showed no ill effects from the hyperextended left elbow she suffered in the victory at Atlanta Saturday. Wearing an adhesive brace on the inside of her arm, Nolan made six of her nine shots, including 2-of-3 from 3-point range. She did not score after halftime but contributed four of her team-high seven assists.
“Since it’s the left hand I don’t really use it that much unless I’m dribbling or shooting a layup on that side,” Nolan said, who had her still-sprained left ankle wrapped heavily in ice after the game. “It serves as a guide hand so I knew it wouldn’t bother my shot.”
The Liberty’s shots were bothered. A lot. New York (1-2) missed its first four shots before scoring first on a layup; then made only one more field goal the next eight minutes, missing 14 of 16 attempts.
A 7-0 run to end the second quarter gave New York a chance to recover, trailing only 29-19 at the break. But the rim didn’t look any larger for the Liberty in the third quarter, as they went scoreless for the first six minutes, missing their first 12 shots.
Returning with all five starters from last season, the Liberty looked nothing like the squad that nearly upset Detroit in the first round of the 2007 playoffs – until the fourth quarter, when they shot 58.8 percent and made four 3-pointers.
“We just like making things difficult. I think it gets us prepared for the playoffs,” Pierson joked before addressing the question earnestly. “We don’t intentionally do it. We have had a couple of mental lapses that cause teams to come back on us, but we showed character in the end and just fight back real hard.”
New York’s shooting woes masked Detroit’s less than crisp offense in the first half. The Shock had to rush to beat the shot clock on a few occasions, and, outside of Nolan and Pierson, the team shot 20 percent (3-of-15).
“Tonight was our best defensive effort by far,” Laimbeer said. “I thought our rotations and everyone was swarming the basketball and it was fun to watch defensively, it just took away from our offense, which was ugly to watch.”
Rookie Olayinka Sanni deferred too much in her third professional start, trying to force passes to veterans on Detroit’s first two possessions. Both plays resulted in turnovers and Pierson replaced her.
“It’s going to be hit or miss with (Sanni) but I have two big players that I can bring off the bench to give us energy,” Laimbeer said, referring to Pierson and Braxton. “I don’t need scoring with the starters I have right now. I need energy coming off the bench.”
Braxton finished with 11 points on 4-of-9 shooting. It was her third straight game in double figures since being moved out of the starting lineup – making it the most productive stretch of her four-year career. She scored in double figures eight times all of 2007.