Aug. 28, 2006
UNCASVILLE, Conn. (AP) – An attitude adjustment made all the difference for the Detroit Shock, the newly crowned Eastern Conference champs.
Rebounding from a nine-point loss to Connecticut in Game 2 of the conference finals, the Shock were dominant from the opening tip Sunday night and routed the Sun 79-55 to earn their second trip to the WNBA Finals. They’ll take on defending WNBA champion Sacramento in a best-of-five series beginning Wednesday.
“There was no adjustment accept in the players’ attitude and how they approached the game,” Detroit coach Bill Laimbeer said.
Swin Cash and Katie Smith led the Shock with 16 points each and reserve Kara Braxton added 12. Cash set the tone early with her intensity, winning hustle plays and scoring on putbacks.
Braxton, a 6-foot-6 forward, had 10 points in the first half, nearly all in the paint. Her coach challenged her after Game 2 and she responded.
“I went after Kara in the locker room and said ‘We need you to perform,'” Laimbeer said.
He told Cash the same thing and got the same results.
“We just came in with a mindset and everyone was like ‘whatever it takes, win at all cost,'” Cash said. “We didn’t care who got the credit. It was a beautiful thing to be a part of.”
The Shock return to the league finals for the first time since winning the championship in 2003.
Much like the 2003 title team, Laimbeer’s squad rolled through these playoffs with a dominating inside game, anchored by the Cheryl Ford, the league’s leading rebounder.
Ford finished with 10 points, eight rebounds and three blocked shots. She was mobbed by her teammates after her block of a jumper by Taj McWilliams-Franklin closed out the third quarter.
“We knew what we had to do … don’t give them any second shots and run,” Ford said.
It was that kind of night for Detroit.
As for Connecticut, the two-time defending conference champs shot just 30 percent, were confounded by the Shock defense and outscored 42-16 in the paint. “Detroit played like they’re supposed to play. They don’t always do that,” Sun coach Mike Thibault said. “The consensus around the league is they are physically one of the most talented teams. They played like that tonight and we didn’t match them.”
Since 2003, Laimbeer has added Smith, one of the league’s most prolific scorers and Braxton, both picked up last season, to complement Ford, Swin Cash, Ruth Riley and the speedy Deanna Nolan.
The Sun, who had the best record of any Eastern Conference team the past two years were denied their third straight trip to the championship round. Their 52 regular-season wins in 2005-06 set a record.
The Sun were beating just about everyone this year. Except Detroit, that is. The Shock won five of six meetings this season. Connecticut’s lone victory came Saturday, a 77-68 win that extended the series one more game.
“They’re one of those teams that really pushes back at us,” Sun guard Lindsay Whalen said. “We feel that one of our strengths is getting it up the floor and playing at a fast tempo. That’s what they like to do, too.”
Detroit took the suspense out of this one early and led by as many as 25 points down stretch. For the second straight night, Connecticut started Katie Douglas, the MVP of the All-Star game, who played with a hairline fracture in her right foot. She provided an emotional lift in Game 2, but the Sun were unable to match Detroit’s intensity in the elimination game. Douglas finished 3-for-10 Sunday for nine points.
McWilliams-Franklin led Connecticut with 12 points and Lindsay Whalen added 10. Margo Dydek had nine rebounds and three blocked shots for the Sun.
Cash had six points in a 10-2 run midway through the first quarter to give Detroit its first bit of breathing room and a 16-9 lead. The Shock shot 55 percent in the first half and led by as many as 11 points down the stretch.
Braxton gave the Shock a lift off the bench early. Most of her 10 first-half points were on second chances and she played just 8:29 in the first 20 minutes. She finished with 12 points.
Douglas pulled Connecticut within five with a 3-pointer with 6:20 left in the half to cut the lead to 32-27. But Braxton countered with three straight inside buckets and the Shock led 46-37 at the break.
Detroit opened the second half with a 6-0 run and gradually pulled away.
“I felt like if we got a good start to the third quarter that we could get ourselves back in the game,” Thibault said. “We played even worse. We picked a bad night to have one of our worst performances of the year.”
Smith played her first 6½ seasons with Minnesota until she was traded midseason last year to Detroit. It will be her first trip to the finals. It was the scenario her coach envisioned.
“I’m very happy for Miss Smith,” Laimbeer said. “That’s why we brought her here. The [Sun] have represented the Eastern Conference well for the last couple of years. But now it’s our turn.”
WNBA Finals schedule Game Date Site Time
1 Wed., Aug. 30 at Det. 7:30 p.m.
2 Fri., Sept. 1 at Det. 7:30 p.m.
3 Sun., Sept. 3 at Sac. 4:30 p.m.
4* Wed., Sept. 6 at Sac. 9 p.m.
5* Sat., Sept. 9 at Det. 3:30 p.m.
All games on ESPN2. * — if necessary.