2007 Detroit Shock Year in Review
Along the way, the Shock players enjoyed a roller-coaster summer, full of individual and collective accomplishments. But they also had their share of setbacks and struggles. No Shock player typified the Shock�s 2007 season more than the league�s defending rebounding champion Cheryl Ford, who thrice injured her left knee - and still managed to win All-Star Game MVP honors and make a heroic appearance in the biggest game of the year, the decisive Game 5 of the WNBA Finals. The 26-year-old forward had a career�s worth of highs and lows in just a matter of months.
A roller-coaster summer, indeed.
Retooling the Roster
Before the summer arrived, the Shock tweaked their roster over the winter, beginning in February when they traded center Ruth Riley, the 2003 WNBA Finals MVP, to San Antonio for 6-foot-8 center Katie Feenstra.
It was a move motivated by the Shock�s need to get under the salary cap, but the move worked out for all involved. Riley�s fresh start in San Antonio helped the Silver Stars become one of the best teams in the West. Meanwhile, Feenstra worked her way into the starting lineup and had four double-doubles late in the regular season - which turned out to lead all WNBA centers.
Feenstra was not the only former Silver Star to join Detroit. Shannon �Pee Wee� Johnson, a four-time WNBA All-Star, signed with the Shock as a free agent. Johnson was reunited with her ABL backcourt mate, Katie Smith, from nearly a decade earlier, serving as a backup at both guard positions.
The Shock enjoyed another unexpected surprise in April, when University of North Carolina guard Ivory Latta - a former collegiate national player of the year and once sure-fire top-3 draft pick - fell in
�I said all along that we would keep our pick if we felt like we could draft a player who had the chance to make an impact in the WNBA down the road, and we got even more than that in Ivory Latta,� he said. �She was at the top of most team�s draft boards at the start of the collegiate season because she can shoot the 3, penetrate and distribute the basketball, and she will bring all of those skills to the WNBA.�
Latta took the roster spot of Kedra Holland-Corn, a member of both Shock championship teams in 2003 and 2006, who retired shortly before the season. With that, the Shock solidified 10 of their 11 roster spots before training camp even opened. Once it did, guard Amy Sanders beat out the incumbent forward Jacqueline Batteast for the final spot.
The Champions Mount Their Defense
Allen Einstein (NBAE/Getty)
�How we have to approach it is that we�re on even ground with everybody,� Cash said. �I think if we approach it like that it will give us an edge, (especially) from what happened in 2004.�
After a 2-1 preseason, the Shock defeated their 2006 Finals foe, the Sacramento Monarchs, at The Palace in the season opener, 78-65. Detroit won its first seven games, becoming the WNBA�s last team to suffer a loss.
�What�s perhaps new, and alarming for the rest of the Eastern Conference, is a collective mentality that reflects the players� intent on proving how good they are on a nightly basis instead of expecting to win solely because of a reputation for being good. The Shock (6-0) are older, wiser and quite possibly better than they were last year,� wrote Graham Hayes of ESPN.com on June 13.
The first loss came to the Indiana Fever, the preseason front-runner to take the Detroit�s Eastern Conference crown. Without Ford, who injured her knee on the final play of the previous night�s win over Connecticut, the Shock trailed almost from the opening tip in a 77-67 defeat.
"It's disappointing that we played this poorly today after barely getting out of here with a win last night,'' Katie Smith said. "Not only did they outplay us, they outworked us, and that shouldn't be happening. We need to hold ourselves and each other responsible for this.''
The Shock rebounded to win the first three games of their four-game West Coast trip, including a furious fourth-quarter rally to defeat the Phoenix Mercury, 87-84. The Shock lost the trip finale at Sacramento - and two of their next three, including a home loss to the shorthanded Silver Stars, who had neither Riley or All-Star guard Becky Hammon in their lineup.
�I�ll tell you, it was disturbing,� Laimbeer said after an 82-81 home overtime loss to the New York Liberty. �We are imploding as a basketball team right now. We�re pointing fingers at everybody� We missed defensive assignments and that�s just bad basketball, and that�s what we are right now. We�re a bad basketball team.�
The Shock got back on track in a big way against the Mercury on July 8, tying the franchise record for points scored in a 111-82 victory. After trailing throughout the first half, the Shock set WNBA records with 40 points in the third quarter and 72 total points after halftime. �Obviously in the third quarter we really got going, really got clicking a little bit,� said Smith, who scored a team-high 20. �Let�s just hope this carries over.�
Did it ever. Sitting at 12-5, the Shock won 12 of their next 13 games, with an 83-73 home loss to Chicago as the only blemish. During the scorching midseason run, the Shock sent a star-studded contingent to Washington, D.C., for the WNBA All-Star Game. Voters made center Kara Braxton, guard Deanna Nolan and forward Cheryl Ford starters for the East team, which was coached by Laimbeer and his staff. The East won, 103-99, and Ford took MVP honors with 16 points, 13 rebounds and the first 3-pointer of her professional career.
"I thought the Shock represented themselves well today, from Kara to Deanna Nolan, and especially Ford," Laimbeer was quoted on ESPN.com. "But Ford does that all the time. Cheryl gets a double-double almost every game she plays. She's a brute force in there, when it comes to defensive rebounding especially.
Two weeks later, Ford would be sidelined yet again with her troublesome left knee, this time for the remainder of the regular season. The Shock still had plenty of talent to stay atop the Eastern Conference, and with a 74-69 victory over the Fever at The Palace on Aug. 11, Detroit clinched the regular-season Eastern Conference crown and the top seed in the playoffs.
With nothing to play for, the Shock got carried away in their rest-and-recover mode and dropped their last four games of the regular season to finish 24-10, one victory shy of the franchise record.
Pushed to the Brink
The Shock drew the upstart New York Liberty in the first round. In Game 1 at Madison Square Garden, the Shock continued their uninspired play and allowed New York to score 18 unanswered points for one stretch. After never losing by double digits all season, the Shock lost by 22 points in the postseason opener, 73-51.
"We didn�t play basketball. We didn�t want it basically. New York definitely wanted it more than us, but we didn�t want it at all. That was discouraging,� Laimbeer said. �We lacked the desire to compete. As a ballclub we were not cohesive. That is something we need to find in the next day and half. If they do we�ll be fine. If we don�t then it�s an early exit."
The Shock rebounded at home to win Game 2, but Game 3 was a considerably more dramatic affair. They scored a season-low 23 points in the first half and trailed by 10 at halftime. After forcing overtime, Detroit found itself down by five with 1:59 in the extra session. But Smith knocked down a triple to make it a two-point lead, Nolan drained a tying jumper and Plenette Pierson�s pass right down the lane found Cash for the go-ahead score.
Before the game, Pierson was honored as the WNBA�s inaugural Sixth Woman of the Year. She averaged 11.6 points and 5.8 rebounds and was Laimbeer�s most consistent frontcourt player from May to September. But the coach�s highest praise of the night went to Ford, who had 17 points and 10 rebounds while playing on her throbbing left knee.
�The horse of the day and the biggest heart that you�re ever going to see if you knew what was going on behind the scenes, was Cheryl Ford today,� Laimbeer said. �I played her 39 minutes - in my wildest dreams I would not have played her 39 minutes. But she said, �I�m okay, I�m going to go.� And the heart she had to perform the way she did today was phenomenal.�
Shock Battle Fever For Conference Crown
The Shock advanced to the Eastern Conference finals to face the Fever in a long-anticipated playoff showdown. The Fever, who had lost to Detroit in the 2006 playoffs, made numerous off-season moves, including the acquisition of center Tammy Sutton-Brown, to match up better with Detroit�s frontcourt. She did just that with six blocks in Game 1, which the Shock lost, 75-65.
Once again on the brink of elimination, the Shock put together their most complete performance in Game 2 at The Palace. The Shock outscored Indiana 21-2 during one stretch to build a 41-32 halftime lead, then opened the third quarter on 27-7 run. �The construction of Detroit�s 29-point lead was in itself a highlight reel with big plays by everyone from Nolan, who scored a game-high 24 points, to Pee Wee Johnson, who played only seven minutes but made a no-look pass behind the back to Nolan for a fast-break layup,� wrote Ryan Pretzer for DetroitShock.com
�We played at a pace there in the second, third quarter especially, we played at a pace that was spectacular to watch, both defensively and in the transition game,� Laimbeer said.
The stage was set for a riveting Game 3 at The Palace. But it was not to be. For the second straight year, Indiana�s All-Star forward Tamika Catchings was knocked out of the game by injury. Just a minute after her jumper tied the game at 30 in the second quarter, Catchings crumpled to the floor with an Achilles injury. Detroit locked down defensively on the shorthanded Fever, who shot only 22 percent over the second and third quarters. The Fever jumped out to a 16-3 lead in the opening minutes, but found themselves down by 20 late in the game. The Shock had booked their return trip to the WNBA Finals by winning all four of their home playoff games.
�We play all year long to secure the home-court advantage, we talk about it from the start of the year, until the end of the year, that if we win our home games, we are the WNBA champions again, and that has been our mentality,� Laimbeer said.
Facing Phoenix in the Finals
Barry Gossage (NBAE/Getty)
Laimbeer was quick to point out, however, that his team liked to run, too. It was against Phoenix in July that the Shock tied the franchise record for points scored, and a few weeks before that when his team shut down the Mercury�s top-ranked offense in the fourth quarter to win on the road.
It was that Detroit Shock squad - and not the one that had come out flat in their first two playoff series openers - in Game 1 at The Palace. Even without Ford in the lineup, Braxton and Pierson combined for 45 points and 22 rebounds to give Detroit a huge advantage in the paint. Pierson scored a career-high 26 points, and Smith had 22 points, six rebounds and four assists for the Shock, who scored 39 points in the fourth quarter en route to a 108-100 victory. The 108 points were the most in WNBA Finals history.
"It was what we expected," said PennyTaylor, who scored a Finals-record 32 points for the Mercury. "We got out to run, and they got inside a lot. They are bigger than us, and that's something we'll have to focus on. There aren't too many teams with that many big players and big bodies."
None of those big bodies could help the Shock in Game 2, however, as the Mercury bombarded Detroit right out of the gate and shot 16-of-44 from beyond the arc. The result was a 98-70 loss - the worst in Shock playoff history. �It�s tough, but you can minimize their (scoring) runs, but we weren�t here. We weren�t here. In general, just individually, collectively, we weren�t here,� said Smith, who scored five points. �Obviously when they got rolling like that and we�re like that � if we�re like that and they�re like this, then this is what you see.�
The teams headed to Phoenix split at a game apiece, but it was the Mercury who appeared to leave their shooting touch in Michigan, shooting a lowly 35 percent, including 5-for-31 on 3-pointers, in Game 3. The Shock scored a Finals record 30 points in the first quarter and pulled ahead in the series with an 88-83 victory. Smith led the way with 22 points, one shy of her career playoff high, 11 of which came consecutively during a key third-quarter stretch.
�We saw the focus in our players, we saw the Shock focus of how we do business,� said Laimbeer. �A quiet, calm about us. A confidence about us. A determination that we were going to come and compete to win a basketball game.�
One win away from back-to-back WNBA titles, the Shock played with purpose and poise for much of Game 4, the last of the series in Phoenix. Especially Pierson, who for the second time in the series tied a Finals record by making 9 of her 10 field-goal attempts. And then the championship slipped from their grasp.
�The Shock lost, 77-76, to the Phoenix Mercury, despite leading by nine in the third quarter and by four with 2:15 to play,� Pretzer wrote. �Despite shooting nearly 10 percent better than the Mercury (48.3 to 38 percent) and still outrebounding them on the defensive boards by eight. Despite having more assists, more blocked shots, and more bench production. It was all undone by 10 fourth-quarter turnovers resulting in 14 Mercury points and guard Cappie Pondexter, who scored 20 of her 26 points in the second half - including the winning layup with 21.7 seconds left.�
The Shock suffered another painful blow in the final minute when Ford re-injured her left knee for the third time. Following the game, Laimbeer hinted that Ford would be in no shape to step on the floor in the decisive Game 5.
But there she was, at The Palace, clearly hobbled but ready to give whatever effort her knee would allow. Ford entered the game with 7:07 left in the second quarter and the Shock already trailing by 11. As they had in Game 2, the Mercury stormed ahead and left it to the defending champions to dig themselves out of a double-digit deficit. They couldn�t, and surrendered their title to the Mercury in a 108-92 defeat.
It�s hard to say what difference a healthy Ford would have made, the way the Mercury were playing. �The Mercury shot like they had never left The Palace, opening the game 11-of-15 from the floor, a Finals-record 73.3 percent,� wrote Pretzer. �They exhibited a blitzing offensive arsenal broke nearly every Finals scoring record in this series - individual, team or combined. All five Mercury starters and sixth-woman Kelly Mazzante scored in double figures Sunday.�
The Mercury set scoring records in the first quarter (30 - tying Detroit), first half (55) and total points, their 108 tying Detroit�s mark from Game 1. It was a bit of horrible symmetry, a reminder of how the beginnings of a successful title defense had spun out of Detroit�s control. �If the Shock didn�t know it then, they know it now: their opportunity to win the series was in Phoenix,� Pretzer wrote. �And they weren�t in Phoenix anymore.�
��Everybody knows we should have won Game 4 in Phoenix,� said guard Deanna Nolan, who scored a team-high 27 points but was 1-for-6 in the first half when Detroit needed the points. �But as you can see, Game 5 was another chance at it. Unfortunately, we didn�t pull it out tonight.��
Laimbeer, who lost a championship in similar fashion when he was the starting center for the Pistons in the 1988 NBA Finals, spoke solemnly after the game, but without resignation. He exuded the determination that has defined the Detroit Shock since he took over as head coach, the determination that made them WNBA champions - and could do so again.
�We don�t hang our heads,� he said. �We understand how the game is played. We�re a very resilient bunch. And I think we look forward to playing in the Finals again next year.�