With the championship core of Riley, Nolan, Cash and Ford still together, 2004 looked promising for the Shock.
Allen Einstein (NBAE/Getty)
The proverbial �they� were wrong.
The first snag in the plan came on draft day, 2004. Reserve guard Kedra Holland-Corn had expressed a desire to be traded somewhere that she could start, and Laimbeer accommodated that request sending the 5-8 Holland-Corn to the Houston Comets in exchange for two draft picks.
Detroit never came close to finding a replacement for Holland-Corn�s production, especially from long distance � In 2003, Detroit connected on 38.7 percent of its three-pointers, and in 2004, they managed to make just 29.7 percent.
Despite a season-opening 73-60 win over the San Antonio Silver Stars, the Shock never were able to put together any kind of winning streak to distance themselves from their Eastern Conference sisters. On June 9, the Shock were 3-3; on June 29, they were 6-6; on July 12, they were 9-9; on July 30, they were 13-13.
Heading into the Olympic Break, Detroit had never been more than two games below or three games above the .500 mark all season long. At 13-14, the Shock found themselves tied for second in the East, but also just a game ahead of Indiana for sixth place. Only two games separated the first place Liberty from the last place Fever, setting up a 19-day race to the finish once September rolled around.
|Eastern Conference Standings|
(At The Olympic Break)
Detroit had seven games remaining on its schedule following the break, with four of those games against Western Conference competition and four games on the road. A 63-58 home loss to the Mercury to begin the month of September dropped the Shock into a three-way tie for third with Indiana and Connecticut
Four consecutive road games at Charlotte, at Seattle, at Los Angeles and at Phoenix were next up on the docket for Detroit. A win at the Charlotte Coliseum helped Detroit leap-frog the Sting while also giving the Shock the tie-breaker over Charlotte. The next two games on the trip weren�t nearly as kind to Detroit as they dropped an 86-67 decision to the Storm and an 81-63 decision to the Sparks.
As the Shock awoke on the morning of September 11, they found themselves in last place in the East with three games remaining, in danger of becoming the first WNBA Champion to fail to make the playoffs the year after winning the title
|Eastern Conference Standings|
(Through September 10)
Detroit�s playoff aspirations were dealt another blow that same day when Swin Cash injured her knee at Phoenix�s America West Arena. The Shock were able to hold on for the win, 80-72, and even though they were still tied for last place, they were also just a half game out of the fourth and final playoff spot.
On September 14, the Shock played host to the New York Liberty who had fallen on hard times themselves losing three of five after the break. Detroit led by as many as 13 in the first period and took a nine point lead, 42-33, into the locker room, only to watch that lead disappear in the first eight minutes of the second half.
New York tied the game on three occasions in the second, and finally took the lead, 65-64, on a pair of Becky Hammon free throws with 44.3 seconds remaining. Crystal Robinson connected on two free throws of her own with 19.5 second to go giving the Liberty a three-point advantage.
Merlakia Jones missed a three with 8.9 seconds to go for the tie, but Cheryl Ford secured the rebound and passed it out to Deanna Nolan who drained a three-pointer of her own with 2.9 seconds left on the clock. A Vickie Johnson jumper on New York�s final possession missed its mark, and the teams headed to overtime.
The Shock made quick work of the Liberty in the bonus period scoring the first six points and outscoring New York 15-4 in the stanza for the 82-71 win.
Detroit�s season-finale was still five days away, and they needed some help if that game vs. Charlotte was going to have any meaning. The win over New York moved Detroit (16-17) into fourth place, a single percentage point ahead of the Liberty (15-16) and Washington (15-16), but every other team in the East had at least two or three games remaining on their schedules.
The postseason gods were smiling on the Shock as the final day of the season put them in a win-and-your-in scenario with the Sting. Both teams were at 16-17, tied for fourth place. Charlotte looked like the hungrier team early on as they jumped out to a 12-point lead, 16-4, with under six minutes gone in the first, but the Shock went on a late run of their own and took a 27-23 lead into the half.
Detroit scored the first six points of the second period, and never trailed the rest of the way. Charlotte cut the Shock lead to three, 46-43 with 9:55 to go, and to two with 6:25 remaining, 50-48, but a 14-1 Detroit run effectively ended the game sending the Shock to the postseason for the second straight season and the third time in franchise history.
The win over Charlotte and a Mystics loss gave Detroit the three seed in the Eastern Conference where they would face the second seeded New York Liberty opening the three-game series at Joe Louis Arena. New York broke open a tight game midway through the second half turning a three-point lead into a 17-point bulge over a 10-minute stretch cruising to the Game 1 win.
In Game 2 at Madison Square Garden, it was Detroit�s turn to blow open a close game in the second period utilizing a 25-7 run early in the half to even the series at one game apiece.
With 20 minutes of basketball in the books, the Shock appeared well on their way to a second straight appearance in the Eastern Conference Finals as they led the Liberty 37-24 at halftime. Ruth Riley scored the first points of the second half to give Detroit a 15-point advantage, but New York went on a 17-6 run immediately afterward to cut the lead to four with 14:34 to play.
An Elane Baranova three-point bankshot tied the game at 57 with 2:15 left in regulation, and a Vickie Johnson three-ball with 1:36 to go gave New York a two-point lead. The Liberty still led by two as the game clock nosed under 20 seconds, but Deanna Nolan drove the lane for a lay-up to tie the game with 12.1 remaining. A defensive stop by the Shock, and the teams would be headed for overtime.
Unfortunately for the Detroit faithful, New York�s Bethany Donaphin nailed a nine-foot jumper off of a broken in bounds play with 0.5 seconds to go ending the Shock season prematurely.
The promise of a young championship caliber team never full materialized in 2004 for Detroit, and the injury to team captain Swin Cash ultimately cost the Shock in the postseason. However, that �young nucleus� was still intact, and given that no team in the East seemed ready to pull away from the field, a few tweaks of the roster could have the Shock back in the driver�s seat in 2005.