Also, Shock must avoid fourth-quarter folly

Three Keys to Game 3

Sure, how much and how well Plenette Pierson is able to play Monday will significantly impact Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals. But she won't decide it by herself. Here are three keys to the biggest game (so far) in the Detroit Shock's 2008 season.

1. Make New York feel young again. The WNBA's youngest team figures to be in the Eastern Conference playoff picture for years to come. But they're not immune from growing pains. New York's panic was evident in the fourth quarter of Game 2, choking away an eight-point lead late in the third quarter to lose by nine.

"I think we showed our youth," confessed Liberty coach Pat Coyle. "For three quarters we played really well on both ends of the floor and I think early in the fourth we missed a couple of shots and I think it just rattled us."

Youth aside, it shouldn't have. New York was in this exact situation last season. They defeated the Shock in New York and then lost a winnable Game 2 on the road. Asked if her team was set up for a deja  vu moment - they lost Game 3 of that series in overtime - Coyle was defiant.

"Not in our minds," was her blunt reply.

"I would just say no only because this is a different team than it was a year ago," she said. "They're a different team, we're a different team. Last year is last year."

New York nonetheless dropped to 0-3 in games when they could have eliminated the Shock. And both teams have plenty of players, including four starters each, that figured significantly into that '07 series, including Shameka Christon.

"It's over. We're not going to dwell on this (loss)," said Christon, who had a double-double in Game 1 and a team-high 16 points in Game 2. "We still have another game and that's what we've got to think about now."

Christon might not want to think too hard. It led to a 3-for-8 shooting night in last year's Game 3 for the Liberty's leading scorer.

2. Get out to a fast start. Neither team has enjoyed a hot shooting start in this series. The teams have combined for 21 and 27 points in the first quarter of games 1 and 2, respectively.

New York, a team dependent upon 3-point shooting, went 0-for-8 in the first half of Game 1 and 1-for-7 in the first quarter of Game 2 beyond the arc.

The Shock need to take advantage of New York's early misfires and built a lead before halftime. That means Deanna Nolan and Katie Smith attacking the rim as they did in their explosive series-clinching performance against the Fever.

Detroit motored ahead in Game 2 only because Nolan gunned her away to nine straight points in the opening minutes. Unable to draw foul calls on missed jumpers, Nolan altered her approach and went to the foul line seven times in the fourth.

"I have to stop shooting jumpers because... I'm getting hit on the arm every time but they said they didn't see it," Nolan said of the officials. "So scratch that, stop shooting jumpers. Just take it to the basket and see what they call."

Laimbeer said started to have success only after they opened up the offense.

"We played the same defense we played the whole game, rebounded well, but most importantly we had fun in the fourth quarter," Shock head coach Bill Laimbeer said. "We started to make a couple of shots, we ran. We played Shock basketball, and I think it was good for us."

It'd be better Monday if they started doing that sooner.

3. Get Taj McWilliams-Franklin going offensively. McWilliams-Franklin's defense and rebounding, especially in the fourth quarter of Game 2 (five rebounds, two steals) have been ironclad.

But chasing New York's bigs on the perimeter seems to have taken the lift off the 37-year-old's shot. She's shooting just 26.3 percent in the series (5-of-19). Those 19 shot attempts are third most on the team, behind Nolan (14-of44) and Smith (8-of-26), who are both shooting around 30 percent from the field.

After methodically chipping away at Indiana's frontcourt - averaging 13.6 points on 53.3 percent shooting (16-of-31) - McWilliams Franklin has scored 10 points in the series against New York. Ten to 16 points from McWilliams-Franklin in Game 3 would go a long way toward helping Nolan and Smith carry the scoring burden.

4. Score for 40 minutes. OK, I said three points. But the fourth - as in the fourth quarter - is the most important in playoff basketball, as the first two games illustrated.

Game 1: Detroit had a six-point lead after 30 minutes, then went nearly six minutes without a field goal to start the fourth and lost.

Game 2. New York had a seven-point lead after 30 minutes. They went through a scoreless streak from 6:10 to 1:35 in the fourth quarter and lost.

The team that can avoid the fourth-quarter drought will be drinking from the chalice of champions Monday night.