Shock head coach Nancy Lieberman-Cline.
The first opportunity for roster tinkering came on May 4, 1999 when Detroit selected guard Jennifer Azzi in the first round (No. 5 overall), center Val Whiting in the second (No. 17), guard Dominique Canty in the third (No. 29) and forward Astou Ndiaye in the fourth (No. 41).
Shock Head Coach Nancy Lieberman-Cline was all smiles following the draft, however given the talent available she did add �how could you not do a good job in this draft? (Houston Comets Head Coach) Van Chancellor told me all he needed was my little 4-year-old son, T.J., to figure out this draft. Let's just say that if you screwed this one up, well, you've got issues.�
Two days after the draft, the WNBA allocated Natasha Anderson, Laura Baker, Leslie Brown, Laurie Byrd, Claudia Maria das Neves, Latasha Dorsey and Oksana Zakauluzhnaya to Detroit as members of their training camp roster.
Despite loftier goals, Detroit stumbled out of the gate at the start of the regular season losing 68-51 to the expansion Minnesota Lynx who, to add insult to injury, were without the services of Katie Smith who was recovering from a torn right ACL.
The Shock shook off the loss, however, and ran off three straight conference wins to move into a tie for first place in the East with the New York Liberty at 3-1. For the next several weeks Detroit struggled to put any kind of distance between themselves and the rest of the conference, making it all the way to August having never been more than two games above or below .500.
Just because the team was having difficulty finding its stride doesn�t mean that individual players weren�t making names for themselves. On July 6, Sandy Brondello scored a franchise-record 33 points in a double-overtime, 104-94 loss to Utah � a game that established the league mark for highest combined scoring output in WNBA history. Brondello hit two buzzer-beating threes � one in regulation and one at the end of the first overtime � but it wasn�t enough to prevent Detroit from losing for the fifth time in six games dropping their record to 5-7.
The reserves for the inaugural WNBA All-Star Game were announced in early July, and Brondello earned her way on to the Eastern Conference squad on the strength of 48.2 percent shooting from the field and 17.9 points per game.
Jenifer Azzi proved to be one of the Shock�s most important offensive threats despite coming off the bench in her first 13 games in Detroit. She averaged 9.0 points per game through July 17, and 12.3 points in 15 games as a starter afterwards.
On the flipside, Korie Hlede struggled early in her sophomore campaign averaging 9.1 points and 33.3 percent shooting from three-point range through the first nine games of the regular season compared to 14.1 points and 39.2 percent from long-range in her rookie year.
Dominique Canty replaced her in the starting lineup on July 2, and on July 29, the Shock traded Hlede and forward Cindy Brown to the Utah Starzz in exchange for forwards Wendy Palmer and Olympia Scott-Richardson. At the time, Detroit�s record was 10-11.
Palmer stepped into the starting lineup for the Shock on August 4 following a five-game losing streak. Detroit saw immediate dividends as they picked up their first win in 11 days behind 21 points from Brondello. At 11-13, the Shock still had their playoff hopes in their own hands as five games against conference foes Orlando, New York and Charlotte awaited them at season�s end.
Unfortunately for Detroit, as the race for the playoffs was heating up, Brondello was cooling down. Following the All-Star Break, the Australian guard averaged just 9.6 points per game and connected on 38.3 percent of her shots.
Detroit limped into August with a four-game losing streak in tow. Still, heading into season�s final 10 games, and despite their 10-12 mark, the Shock had their playoff destiny in their own hands. The top three teams in the East would advance to the postseason, and Detroit�s final five games of the year were against New York (2), Orlando (2) and Charlotte (1).
|1999 WNBA Eastern Conference Standings|
|*Through July 31|
First, though, the Shock had to take on the Washington Mystics and wade through a four-game West Coast swing. Detroit dropped that home tilt vs. Washington on August 2 to run its losing streak to five games. The Miracle lost a day earlier though, so the Shock didn�t give up any ground.
Detroit managed to split its four games out west, and with five games to play on August 12, they were a game and a half ahead of Orlando in the battle for third place.
|1999 WNBA Eastern Conference Standings|
|*Through August 11|
The Shock and Liberty split their two games leaving the Shock at 13-16 with three games to play. New York locked up first place in the East with a win over Washington on August 17, and the Sting had clinched a playoff spot despite being in free-fall mode dropping four straight out west from August 9-16.
That left Orlando and Detroit to battle it out for the third and final postseason berth, and the Miracle were on a three-game winning streak heading into an August 18 home game vs. the Shock.
|1999 WNBA Eastern Conference Standings|
|*Through August 17|
Orlando topped Detroit 93-81 behind 21 points from Taj McWilliams and 18 from Nykesha Sales to move a game ahead of the Shock. However, Detroit�s playoff hopes were still alive with back-to-back games against Charlotte and Orlando on August 20 and 21 left to close out the year.
The Miracle picked up a road win at Minnesota on the 20th, as the Shock and Sting engaged in a back-and-forth tussle at the Charlotte Coliseum. The Shock led by five at the break, 29-24 and an Azzi 21-footer to open the second period pushed the lead to eight before the Sting went on an 8-0 run of its own to tie the game at 32.
From that point forward neither team led by more than four points, and the Shock took a 58-57 nail-biter, setting up a winner-take-all meeting for Detroit against the Miracle at The Palace on August 21.
The Shock had difficulty containing Taj McWilliams in the first half, as she lit up Detroit for 16 points on 8-of-12 shooting from the field before the break. Orlando led 36-30 as the teams headed into the locker room shooting 58.6 percent from the field compared to just 37.5 percent from the Shock.
A Shannon Johnson layup with 1:16 gone in the second half gave Orlando its biggest lead of the day at 38-30. Azzi countered with a three-pointer on the following possession which began an 18-4 Detroit run. Azzi had eight points in the surge including two threes and Palmer added six points. The two teams traded the lead four more times throughout the half, but Detroit extended its lead to eight points at 68-60 with 45 seconds to go.
The Miracle scored on its next three possessions including three pointers by Johnson and Sheri Sam to counter two Azzi free throws and cut the lead to 70-68 with 17.8 seconds remaining, but Azzi clinched Detroit�s first trip to the postseason by hitting four more free throws down the stretch for the 74-68 final score.
The Shock made their living at the charity stripe in the second half scoring their final 13 points from that distance. Azzi had 20 points in the half making five of six field goals, including all three of her three-pointers, as the team made 54.2 percent of its shots in the second stanza.
With the Shock�s first postseason berth in hand, Detroit had two days to prepare for their one-game series with the Charlotte Sting.
It was a defensive struggle for the entire evening at The Palace on August 24 as neither team was able to connect on more than 40 percent of its field goals. In the first half, Detroit�s defense limited Charlotte to 29.0 percent shooting, but they led by just four, 26-22, at the break.
The Shock led by six, 42-36, with just under 10 minutes to go in the second half, but beginning with a pair of Dawn Staley free throws, the Sting went on a 16-3 run to take a seven-point lead with 2:52 to play. Staley scored seven points during the run to put Detroit back on its collective heels, but a Palmer layup and a Brondello three-ball cut the lead to two with a minute and change left on the clock.
Rhonda Mapp countered with a running jumper with under a minute to go, and Charlotte scored its last six points from the free throw line to seal the win, sending the Shock home for the season, 60-54.
�Obviously, we are very disappointed,� said Brondello. �It�s really sad because we really stuck together this year. It�s been a lot of ups and down, but I think the one special thing is that we stuck together and grew together. It�s like a family.�
As the curtain fell on the 1999 season optimism still abounded in the Motor City. Despite a sub-.500 record the Shock had taken a step forward by advancing to the postseason for the first time in the team�s brief history. And they did so despite quite a bit of turnover on the roster as fan favorite Hlede was dealt mid-season, and several new faces including Palmer, Azzi and Brondello began to make their marks on the franchise. As the 1999-2000 off-season loomed, the future for the Shock still looked promising.