For 51 weeks of the year, this site is all Pistons. But this week, we're giving the Shock some love -- special thanks to DBB reader PistonsGirl4Life for providing the following post about last night's oh-so-close Game 4 of the WNBA Finals.
As anyone who’s watched the Detroit Shock (apparently more than I’d have ever imagined) knows, the ladies from D-Town consistently find new ways to surprise their fans. The team is by all regards one of the most talented in the WNBA’s short history and have been so for three years now.
Coach Bill Laimbeer is widely regarded as one of the best coaches in the WNBA and has been credited with teaching the Shock to play with a fire and passion that borders on otherworldly. They’ve almost single-handedly changed the way women’s basketball is played at the WNBA level. They are emotional, physically intimidating and at times downright nasty.
Unfortunately despite all these factors in their favor the Shock seem possessed of an almost split personality. For every clutch last second win on the road, there’s a 20 point blowout loss to a team who had no right beating them waiting not far behind. For every emotional trick Bill pulls from his hat, there seems to be a corresponding meltdown between coach and his players waiting just around the corner. Simply put, some nights the Shock look like the all time class of the WNBA and some nights they’re so awful you wonder how they’ve won ANY games, let alone the game you are watching.
Even inside individual games this phenomena rears its ugly head as the Shock tend to fall behind big time early and then rally late for the win. Already this post-season we’ve seen them play way down vs. a New York Liberty team that was too young to torture the Shock the way they did and then throw away a winnable game vs. Indiana before absolutely destroying the Fever in games 2-3.
On paper the Fever are the only team in the league that can match up with Detroit’s physical inside play and when Detroit won game one of the finals vs. Phoenix to take it’s winning quite easily streak to three games it was tempting to say "Season over, Detroit wins"… unless you know the Shock. I guess that’s why game two’s 20 point loss didn’t really surprise me, nor did Detroit bouncing back and taking game 3 in Phoenix by inexplicably out shooting the hottest shooting team in the league. It’s just hard to be surprised by ANYTHING with these girls anymore.
With that history in mind it should surprise no one that I was expecting a disappointing effort, a million personal fouls, at least one Bill Laimbeer having to be bleeped out on national TV while speaking to one of his OWN players moment and a 10-20 point Shock lost. Fool me seventy seven times shames on me. The Shock started the game focused and determined on defense, though their shooting was erratic. It quickly became apparent that they were already inside Phoenix’s head when the Mercury switched to a much slower half court offence, almost completely abandoning their signature run and gun style.
By halfway through the first it looked like Phoenix was the team that couldn’t control their emotions as both Taylor and Taurasi were playing almost completely out of control (as a side note, any place BUT Phoenix with the home team facing elimination and I’m absolutely certain Taurasi fouls out… she was a maniac out there most of the night, the refs just weren’t calling HALF of what she was doing and she still ended on 5). Unfortunately the Shock couldn’t take advantage because of poor shooting and a late Phoenix run and ended the first down by 5 and having scored only 12 points.
Still even at that point Detroit didn’t seemed phased, and when the Shock started making shots fall in the second Phoenix started to fall apart. Though the score said Shock 35-Mercury 33 at halftime I felt Detroit was firmly in command of the game; they were playing smarter, Phoenix was only hanging on by emotion and some amazing plays by Cappie Pondexter (this will come up later, I promise). Even the home crowd wasn’t helping; they booed Peirson when she took the floor in the first only to promptly watch her drain multiple clutch buckets. A good run to start the third looked like all it would take to shut Phoenix down and claim consecutive WNBA Championships. For once the Shock were finally putting it all together, finally winning when they were supposed to, finally proving that they are who the analysts have always said they are. Of course in the immortal words of the good Doctor…."they forgot about Dre"…err Cappie.
The first basket of the third told the story that would unfold for the rest of the night. Cappie Pondexter takes the ball inside from the half court and makes a driving lay-up more commonly seen in men’s basketball then draws a shooting foul that COULDN’T have prevented the basket. As she goes to the line and rains the FT the look in her eyes makes it abundantly clear she’s not interested in hearing Detroit sing "2 Legit Too Quit" again. When Detroit missed two lay-ups and needed two offensive rebounds and a questionable personal foul call to drain a short 3 and retake the lead I wrote "uh-oh" down in my notebook immediately. The rest of the quarter was classic Detroit Shock as the girls alternated crisp buckets/excellent defense with missed putbacks, absolutely horrible turnovers and a bewildering refusal to double Cappie Pondexter.
Astoundingly the Shock actually OUTSCORED the Mercury 25-24 in the third but the stats didn’t tell the whole story at all. Detroit had nailed a series of three’s in the middle of the quarter to shoot way ahead but both the beginning and end of the third belonged completely to the Mercury (more specifically Cappie Pondexter). At the pace the teams were playing it seemed a foregone conclusion that if Detroit didn’t find a way to stop Pondexter they were going to run out of gas first. When Phoenix came out and absolutely dominated the first four mins of the fourth quarter the game seemed pretty much over. Fool me seventy-eight times? Yes and no. Somehow Phoenix doesn’t blow the game open; a late Detroit time out and some scintillating rebounding by Ford cool the Mercury off setting up the following sequence
Detroit is up 71-70 with just under 3 to go in the 4th quarter and both offences have ground to a halt. Phoenix keeps feeding the ball to Pondexter but Detroit seems to have that figured out now and Ford is quickly stepping up to harass her whenever she makes a move to go inside. Even tiny little Deanna Nolan is getting in the act with a beautiful blindside rejection on a Cappie 15 foot jumpshot (play of the game if the driving lay-up by Pondexter to start the 3rd wasn’t). Phoenix calls a full timeout on its next possession but it doesn’t help as Pierson hits one of two from the line and then nails what looks like a back breaking 16 foot jumper to take a 4 point lead. I exclaim to anyone at the bar who will listen (mostly my friend and his girl), "that’s the dagger baby, it’s over" just in time to see Phoenix set up the half court with the ball in Pondexter’s hands again. As Detroit’s defense collapses toward her I’m almost sure this shot is going to miss…except she doesn’t shoot. Cappie’s beautiful kick out pass to Kelly Miller for a wide open 3 changed the entire game in a heartbeat.
Suddenly Detroit loses its mind; Shannon Johnson chucks up what I can only assume was a retribution trey, missing horribly. Ford pulls down the rebound but then SLAMS into someone like charging doesn’t exist. Phoenix ball and suddenly I know there’s going to be a game 5. Except Miller tried to drain another three and misses only to have you guessed it Ford come up with the ball again. Fool me seventy-nine times? No, Pierson makes the single worst pass of the game, it’s stolen and Phoenix takes a 20 second timeout to set up a 13 foot jumper by you guessed it… Cappie Pondexter.
It gets worse, Ford is DEFINITELY injured badly which doesn’t bode well for Detroit considering how many key boards she’s pulled and how important a rebound would be now. Detroit takes a 20 second after Pondexter’s jumper. Detroit’s timeout produces a pretty Nolan jumpshot but she takes it way too fast and leaves 34 seconds on the clock, more than enough time to set Cappie up for another beautiful driving lay-up. I’m pretty sure the game is over at this point until I realize that somehow Phoenix has ALSO left too much time on the clock and with Detroit using its full timeout there was 18 seconds left to steal victory. Well fool me 80 times as the Shock worked the ball around for a decent but unspectacular 12 foot jump shot by Johnson that looked good, right until it didn’t. Game over and the series heads back to Detroit.
Some thoughts about the game in general: That was one of the worst coached basketball games I’ve ever seen in my life. From poor adjustments, poor play calling and poor shot clock management it was hard to believe this was a finals game. There were several long stretches where neither team scored and yet watching the game you really couldn’t attribute it to tough defense. The Shock played tough, kept the game close and forced Phoenix out of their rhythm and still lost which has got to be slightly demoralizing.
Losing Ford is also going to hurt way more than people realize, there are virtually no other rebounders in the women’s game like her. All that having been said however the Mercury have to feel lucky to have escaped with that win and the Shock now have 3 days to figure out how to stop Cappie Pondexter from dominating them again. All in all this game was way off script for the Shock but the story is the same, finding a way to lose a close out game vs. an opponent who was ready to quit. Let’s hope history continues on Sunday and the Shock use potentially blowing their repeat chances as a motivator to play the best game of their lives…for the 20th time or so.