Having dispatched the Indiana Fever for the third consecutive postseason, the Shock once again face the New York Liberty, whom they met in the first round of last year’s playoffs. The upstart Liberty took the Shock to the limit in 2007, leading by five points with two minutes left in overtime of the decisive Game 3 before Detroit prevailed.
Playoffs lessons are always learned the hard way, and New York put theirs to use in the first round this week, upsetting the No. 2 seed Sun on the road in Game 3 to advance.
“They’re also a determined bunch right now,” Shock head coach Bill Laimbeer said. “They feel good about themselves, beating Connecticut at Connecticut. They gave us fits last year in the playoffs and they make shots.”
Despite a 3-1 record against New York in 2008, the Shock players realize how close they came to defeat last year and that another season together has made them even better.
“They’re a very good team,” said Katie Smith, who shot a woeful 27 percent from the field and behind the arc against New York this season. “They play very, very well together, and they get after it defensively and they rebound, so we’ve got our hands full with them, especially starting out at their place.”
Game 1 of the conference finals is at Madison Square Garden, words that should send chills down the Shock’s collective spine. Looking disinterested early and dysfunctional throughout, the Shock scored a team playoff record low 51 points and lost by 22 points in the ‘07 playoff opener at New York.
The Shock had another bizarre loss at the Garden July 12, when an 18-point lead in the third quarter quickly disappeared, resulting in a 74-64 loss. It was the second-largest comeback in Liberty history. Smith and Plenette Pierson each scored 13 points to lead Detroit.
The Shock will have to battle the Liberty at least once and potentially the entire series without Pierson, who suffered a dislocated right shoulder in Game 2 of the first round. The 2007 Sixth Woman of the Year averaged a team-high 16.3 points against New York this season while shooting 53 percent from the field and 86.7 percent shooting from foul line.
Laimbeer smiled when he told reporters that when he informed his players that Pierson would not play in Game 1, she stood up to protest. “I still expect to be a man down. With all due respect to Plenette and her heart and her desire, she had a significant severe injury,” he said. “Can you play with it? Yes. Is the pain severe? Yes. Can she play with it today? Absolutely not.”
Pierson sounded less confident when asked about her status. “I really don’t know. I can’t even tell you that,” she said. “I’m hoping to play the next game against New York but right now it’s uncertain.”
While the 6-foot-2 Pierson’s absence means Detroit won’t be able to take full advantage of their frontcourt strength, the Liberty likely won’t try to exploit it, either. “They’re a 3-ball shooting team,” Laimbeer said. “When they’re hot, they’re good.” Speaking about their post players, Smith added, “I think it also helps us match-up wise because they’re a little more guard-like. [Cathrine] Kraayeveld is a little bit more like a guard. They don’t necessarily have like true 5s posting you up.”
Because of scheduling conflicts at The Palace, the Shock will host Game 2 and, if necessary, Game 3 of the conference finals at the Eastern Michigan University Convocation Center in Ypsilanti, Mich.
Laimbeer said neither he nor his players are concerned about losing home-court advantage, which certainly contributed to their gritty rally against the Liberty a year ago.
“I believe the place will be packed,” Laimbeer said. “It’s a different area, could be a different crowd but make no mistake they’ll be for us. And it doesn’t really matter where you play. Familiarity of your floor and your baskets really helps, but I think the crowd will be a factor for us.”