In 2006, the Shock won their second WNBA Championship in four years.
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2006 Detroit Shock Year in Review

With 14 seconds remaining in Game 5 of the WNBA Finals, Katie Smith hit the jumper that effectively gave the Detroit Shock their second WNBA title in four seasons. It was a remarkable end to a remarkable season that finally saw the Shock live up to the potential that media pundits, fans and even Head Coach Bill Laimbeer had been trumpeting for the past three years.

In a preseason conference call with the media, Laimbeer explained, �I like our team. But it doesn�t matter if I like them or not. It�s up to the players, and we talked to them a lot about that this year. This is the year the players have to stand up . . . and they know it, and they�re going to do all the talking this year.�

Despite first-round exits in each of the two previous postseasons, Laimbeer wasn�t the only person with confidence in the Shock�s ability. Detroit was a unanimous pick by ESPN�s preseason prognosticators to win the title with their starting five garnering much of the early attention.

�The Shock are huge inside,� ESPN.com�s Michelle Voepel stated in April of 2006. �Detroit has slashing ability, strong finishers, monster rebounders, good experience. Swin Cash appears to be back fully healthy. Katie Smith still can be the most dangerous perimeter scoring threat in the league. Deanna Nolan at any time can look like the WNBA's most athletic player. Cheryl Ford is so hard to stop in the paint.�

All five starters that ended the 2005 campaign in Detroit were back, but the reserve corps looked much different. Elaine Powell, a starter for the Shock for most of the 2002-2005 seasons, was lost to Chicago in the expansion draft and Barbara Farris signed with the New York Liberty as a free agent. Sheila Lambert wasn�t resigned, and Andrea Stinson announced her retirement.

Kedra Holland-Corn, who was a member of the 2003 Shock team, was signed as a free agent, and two international players in Sabrina Palie (France) and Irina Osipova (Russia) were also added to the mix. Laimbeer also made two trades during the preseason acquiring Jacqueline Batteast from Minnesota in exchange for Ambrosia Anderson, whom Detroit chose with the 17th overall pick in the 2006 WNBA Draft, and Angelina Williams from the Phoenix Mercury in exchange for two 2007 third round draft picks.

Although the Shock finished the 2006 preseason with a 2-1 record, the quality of opposition during those exhibition games was less than stellar. A 77-58 win over Connecticut at the Mohegan Sun Arena came against a starting Sun five that consisted of Jamie Carey, Jessica Brungo, Le�Coe Willingham, Megan Mahoney and Asjha Jones. Those players would combine for all of three starts during the regular season.

Next came an 85-84 loss to Phoenix in Albany, New York. Rookie of the Year candidate Cappie Pondexter got the start for the Mercury, but the rest of the starters that night � Tamicha Jackson, Ann Strother, Sandora Irvin and Angelina Williams � played in a 18 combined games for Phoenix during the regular season. One of them, Williams, would get traded to the Shock several days later.

Detroit finished the preseason with an 85-70 win over Houston. Once again, the caliber of competition offered by the Comets was not quite what it would be during the regular season as Roneeka Hodges and Kayte Christensen both got the starting nod in the exhibition game. Christensen was cut prior to the start of the regular season, while Hodges played a key role as a reserve and sport starter for Houston.

Doubts about the Shock continued to creep into conversation early in the season as Detroit dropped its season opener to Indiana despite holding the Fever to 26.8 percent shooting from the field. Wins over Minnesota and New York sandwiched around a nationally-televised overtime win on the road at a full-strength Connecticut had seemingly righted the ship, but on June 10 the Shock awoke with a 4-4 mark on the season � the same record they posted through eight games in 2005.

The good news for Detroit at that point was that six of their first eight games, and all four losses, came on the road, and two of the losses were to Western Conference teams. If the team could win a significant portion of its home games and take care of business in the East, a high playoff seed should still be theirs for the taking.

The biggest concern for the coaching staff at that point was the team�s defense. Thankfully, following the 14-point road loss to the Phoenix Mercury that dropped the Shock to the .500 mark, the team had nearly a week off before its next game. The work the team did that week paid dividends immediately in a 71-63 win at The Palace vs. the Indiana Fever.

�We talked about it after the Phoenix game how we were going to practice really hard this week and get back to being a hard-nosed basketball team,� said Laimbeer, �and I think they showed it tonight.�

Cheryl Ford echoed those sentiments � �I think it started with practice this week, because we went so hard the first couple days. We've been waiting on a game where we play forty minutes hard and playing each possession hard.

The win over the Fever began a streak of six consecutive victories for Detroit including five wins by double-figures. At the All-Star break, the Shock were 13-6 and in second place in the East � a game back of the Sun and a half game ahead of Indiana.

The Shock placed three players on the Eastern Conference All-Star Team � Cheryl Ford, Deanna Nolan and Katie Smith. Ford was putting up MVP-like numbers at the midway point of the season averaging 13.6 points and a league-best 11.7 rebounds per game. Nolan was averaging 13.2 points and 3.6 assists per game, and Smith, in her first season as a point guard, was averaging 11.7 points and 3.5 assists per game while ranking in the top three in the league in free throw percentage.

Meanwhile Ruth Riley was connecting on 52.4 percent of her field goal attempts, and Swin Cash was regaining her pre-injury form averaging 11.6 points and 5.3 rebounds per game.

During the All-Star festivities, Smith was honored as a member of the WNBA�s All-Decade Team as voted on by players, fans, executives and members of the media. She also became, along with Connecticut�s Margo Dydek, the first player to win an All-Star game as a member of both the Western and Eastern Conference teams as the East picked up its first win ever in the WNBA�s mid-season classic, 98-82.

After the All-Star break, Detroit won five of its first six games to run its record to 18-7 while Indiana split its next six. Both teams, however, were playing follow the leader as the Connecticut Sun followed up a post-All-Star loss to the Sacramento Monarchs with 11 wins in a row. That order of finish would hold up at season�s end with Connecticut, Detroit and Indiana earning the one, two and three seeds in the Eastern Conference playoffs respectively.

While the seeding of the teams may not have changed down the stretch, there were some individual honors still to be sorted out � most notably, Cheryl Ford�s pursuit of the league single-season rebound record. It took her until the last game of the season, but the fourth-year forward finished the year with 363 boards � a new WNBA benchmark.

There was also still some tinkering with the roster still to be done as Laimbeer signed former Shock guard Elaine Powell to a free agent contract on July 25 two days after the Chicago Sky waived her.

As the postseason began, history was not on the Shock�s side. The team in the WNBA that had posted the best scoring differential during the regular season had won the championship in each of the league�s first nine years. In 2006, it was the Sun who placed that marker on the table.

Before the Shock could face off against Connecticut, however, they had to do away with the Fever. Despite the fact that Detroit owned a better overall record than Indiana, the Shock were less than heavy favorites in their best two-out-of-three playoff series. The teams had split their four regular season meetings with the home team emerging victorious each time. As the higher seed, Detroit would play the series-opener at Indiana�s Conseco Fieldhouse.

The Shock led by two at the half and by three after the third period before finishing Game 1 on a 21-12 run. Nolan led all scorers with 18 points and Smith chipped in with 17. Ford posted another workmanlike double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds.

Game 2 in the series moved back to The Palace of Auburn Hills where the Fever�s Tamika Whitmore turned into a one-woman wrecking crew. Through three quarters, Indiana led 64-63, with Whitmore accounting for 31 of the Fever�s points. Thankfully, the Shock were able to clamp down on the rest of the Fever roster as they outscored Indiana 35-19 in the fourth quarter to sweep the series.

Whitmore finished the night with a WNBA playoff-record 41 points on 15-of-25 shooting from the field. Cheryl Ford posted another double-double with a team-high 23 points and 10 boards while Plenette Pierson poured in 20 points off the bench. The win set up an Eastern Conference Finals match-up between Detroit and its biggest conference rival, the Connecticut Sun, who swept the Washington Mystics in the first round.

Connecticut may have posted a better record on the year than Detroit, but the Shock had all the confidence in the world entering the series having swept Connecticut in the three regular season meetings between the teams. The Sun were also without the services of Katie Douglas to start the series as she continued to battle back from a hairline fracture in her right foot.

As the lower seed in the series, the Shock hosted Game 1 at The Palace and once again used a fourth-quarter burst to put a playoff game out of reach. Trailing 49-48 heading into the fourth quarter, Detroit outscored Connecticut 22-10 in the fourth period coming from behind to take a 1-0 advantage. Ford grabbed a WNBA record 23 rebounds and Nolan scored a game-high 21 points.

Game 2 saw the teams return to the Mohegan Sun, and it also saw the return of Douglas to the Connecticut lineup. Detroit trailed once again heading into the fourth quarter, 60-55, but couldn�t muster a rally despite a Shock playoff-record 27 points from Nolan. Douglas scored just six points on the night, but the Sun made 22 free throws to 13 for the Shock accounting for the nine-point margin of victory.

The deciding Game 3 had all the makings of a classic with two rivals battling for a trip to the WNBA Finals, but the Shock turned the game into a laugher in the third quarter extending a nine-point halftime lead to 20 points at the end of three quarters, cruising to a 22-point win. Detroit held Connecticut to 18 points in the second half while Cash and Smith each scored 16 points to lead four Shock players in double figures. Taj McWilliams-Franklin led the Sun with 12 points on six of eight shooting, but Detroit clamped on the rest of the Connecticut roster forcing them to miss 45 of 60 shots.

The excitement of the team�s second trip to the WNBA Finals in four seasons was balanced out by the reality of the opponent on the marquee � the Sacramento Monarchs. The Monarchs were the defending WNBA Champions and had beaten the Shock 10 out of the last 14 meeting each by double figures for an average margin of defeat at 13.3 points per loss.

Thankfully, the Shock owned home-court advantage because of their better regular season record. That meant that Detroit would host Games 1, 2 and 5, although Game 5, if it were necessary, would be played at Joe Louis Arena in downtown Detroit because The Palace of Auburn Hills was booked on that date for a Maria Carey concert.

The clich� reads �A series doesn�t really start until the road team wins.� That being the case, the 2006 WNBA Final started immediately as the Monarchs wrested home court away from the Shock with a resounding 24-point victory. Ford�s game-high 25 points and Smith�s 21 provided plenty of offensive firepower for the Shock, but it was the D that let Detroit down as the Monarchs connected on 53.0 percent of their shots including 10-of-19 (52.6%) from three-point range in the 95-71 win.

After the game, Smith summed the Shock�s effort up with three simple words � �not very pretty.�

Still, one game does not make a series, and Detroit had the opportunity to even up the series two days later. Unfortunately, in the early going it looked like more of the same as Detroit trailed 42-33 at the half. The Shock cut the lead to six at the end of the third quarter, and then used an 8-0 run to open the fourth before outscoring Sacramento 25-9 in the final frame to even the series at one game apiece. The Shock�s defense put in an appearance holding the Monarchs to 32.8 percent shooting from the field and just 3-of-15 (20.0%) from long distance while Nolan�s 21 points paced the Shock offense.

The series moved to ARCO Arena for Games 3 and 4, where the Shock had struggled over the years. Those struggles continued as the Monarchs blew open a close game in the second and third quarters outscoring Detroit 52-32 over that span. Sacramento forced Detroit into 23 turnovers while committing just 11 of their own in winning Game 3, 89-69, and moving to within one game of their second consecutive league championship.

It is rare when the most talked about aspect of a playoff series comes between games, but just like John Elway has �The Drive� and Teresa Weatherspoon has �The Shot,� Shock Head Coach Bill Laimbeer has now become synonymous with �The Mic.�

The WNBA requires its coaches to wear a microphone during nationally televised games, and the Finals is no exception. Laimbeer has never had an issue wearing a microphone, nor did he have a problem wearing one during the Finals. But the microphone that he was given during the championship series lacked an on/off switch � a standard feature on the mics he usually wears. This meant that any and all conversations that he had with coaches and players, even those he wished to keep private, were available for ESPN2�s talent to hear, broadcast and comment on.

Reports from those watching the games from the comfort of their own homes soon reached the Shock braintrust � the EPSN2 broadcasters were indeed airing conversations that an on/off switch would have prevented, and they were not painting the Shock in a positive light.

�I just hear from our family and friends back home that, �Boy, ESPN is killing you guys,� � Laimbeer said the day after Game 2. � And (ESPN2�s talent) are just trashing you left and right.� Not only me, but also some of our players on our ball club. They're using their own tool to create their own story. That shouldn't happen.�

Laimbeer also questioned the equality of the whistles being doled out following his team�s Game 3 loss. �Our frustration is starting to build. We're tired of (there) being a double standard on the whistle. Players are becoming frustrated, and we expect � no, we demand, that we get the same calls as the other team.�

He added, �Did the referees lose the game for us? Absolutely not. We lost it for ourselves by our frustration creeping in, and we lost our brain at times. That�s part of who we are. But we demand that we get the same handchecks, that we get the same cheap calls that go against us. Am I whining? No. I'm stating a fact.�

Although there was certainly some truth to Laimbeer�s words, they were also a classic case of establishing an �Us Against The World� mentality. With Detroit�s poor record against the Monarchs over the years, and the bad taste of a 20-point drubbing in their mouths, it was time for the coaching staff to employ every trick in the book.

Regardless of what it was that eventually spurred the Shock into action, it finally began to work in the second quarter of Game 4. Trailing by four heading into the second period, Detroit�s defense limited the Monarchs to 11 points in the final 10 minutes of the first half and went into the locker room with a six-point lead.

The second half brought with it more of the same stifling defense with Sacramento managing just 13 points in the third quarter and a microscopic two points in the fourth. After scoring 26 points in the first quarter, the Monarchs barely matched that same 26 over the final three. Katie Smith led all scorers with 22 points, and the Shock held Sacramento to 31.7 percent shooting on the night.

All of which set up Game 5 at Joe Louis Arena. Perhaps not the home court advantage that the Shock had hoped for, but after the team�s Game 4 win, Laimbeer boasted �We�re going down to play in downtown Detroit, in Joe Louis and we�re going to pack that place. We�re going to have a ton of people in the upper rafters screaming, hollering, yelling for the Detroit Shock to win the basketball game.�

And he was right. The line for tickets extended around the arena hours before tip-off, and eventually 19,671 Shock fans packed the Joe � the second largest crowd in WNBA Finals history. Now if the play on the court could match the enthusiasm in the stands, the Shock would be hoisting their second championship banner in four years.

A tightly contested first quarter saw the Monarchs take an 18-17 lead into the second 10 minutes of play. However, they scored the first six points of the second stanza and went into the break with an eight-point lead, 44-36. The Shock struggled offensively in the first half making just 36.4 percent of their shots. Nolan in particular was misfiring making just 4 of 13 shots before the half.

Wherever Nolan misplaced her shot in the first 20 minutes, she found it in the locker room at halftime. The Shock opened the third quarter on a 10-0 run with Nolan accounting for four of those points. She would go on to score 10 points in the first 5:07 of the period as the Shock opened up a five point lead and the quarter came to a close.

Detroit opened the fourth quarter in much the same way it began the third � by scoring 10 of the first 12 points of the frame giving them a 13-point lead with 6:12 to go. The Monarchs weren�t about to go quietly, however, as they turned up the defensive pressure sandwiching three Detroit turnovers and two missed shots around a pair of Plenette Pierson free throws over the next three-plus minutes.

Thankfully, the Shock were bending, but not breaking on the other end of the floor and a Katie Smith free throw with 2:14 to go pushed Detroit�s lead to nine, 75-66. Monarchs� guard Kristin Haynie and Smith traded baskets and as the clock dipped under a minute to go, the Shock were still up by nine.

Haynie�s driving lay-up and subsequent free throw cut the lead to six, and Nicole Powell converted a Detroit turnover into a three-pointer with 33 seconds to go. The Shock lead was now three with less than 30 seconds to go.

Fittingly, Detroit put the ball in the hands of the all-time leading scorer in US women�s professional basketball history � Katie Smith. With the shot clock at 14, Smith stepped away from her defender nailing the jumper that would provide the finishing touches for the 2006 WNBA Season � a season that finally saw the Shock live up to their tremendous potential.

Nolan was named the MVP of the Finals after leading the Shock in scoring for the series and pouring in a game-high 24 in the decisive Game 5. It was the second championship for Nolan, Cash, Ford, Riley, Powell and Holland-Corn, and the first WNBA title for Smith who had previously won two championships in the ABL.

Of course in professional sports, the first question about a team that wins a championship is �can they do it again? Can they repeat?� We�ll have to wait �til next year to find out.