- Nancy Lieberman, Basketball analyst / Writer
- 0 Shares
Champions find a way to win. And Detroit deserves credit for pulling out its first-round victory over New York. Granted, the series wasn't supposed to be that close, but despite trailing by five points in overtime, the Shock found a way to win.
The question is if the Shock find themselves in trouble again in the Eastern Conference finals against an even better team, in an equally physical series, can they keep digging out?
The Shock have the ability and talent to beat Indiana, but sometimes I wonder where their will to win is? They just don't play hard the whole time. Detroit is an emotional team that sometimes is at its best when forced to play through its self-caused chaos. But will the real Detroit Shock show up in the East finals?
Indiana matches up well with the defending champions. If Detroit goes big, Alison Bales can guard Katie Feenstra. Tamika Catchings, who has been outstanding, can guard Cheryl Ford, Katie Braxton or Plenette Pierson inside.
Whereas Detroit depends on its starters reaching double figures (other than Pierson, no one else consistently scores), Indiana has more depth and scoring off the bench. Tamika Whitmore averaged 10.9 ppg in the regular season but came off the bench for 20 ppg in the playoff series against the Connecticut Sun.
Detroit boasts the best field-goal percentage defense in the league (Indiana is No. 2), but the Fever are shooting extremely well and playing as free and relaxed as ever. In the first round, they hit eight 3-pointers per game (2½ more 3-pointers per game than in the regular season) and shot 43 percent from beyond the arc, an increase of 11 percent. Anna DeForge, whose penetration and aggression to the rim has opened up her outside shot, averaged less than nine points in the regular season but is leading everybody in the playoffs with 25 ppg, shooting 57 percent from the field. She also has nailed 18 of her last 40 3-point attempts.
The play of DeForge, Catchings and Whitmore has helped make up for the disappearing acts of two Fever players. Tan White ranked fourth in scoring for the Fever in the regular season (10.8 ppg), but the 2-guard scored only two points and attempted just six field goals in the entire first round. White was Indiana's leading scorer during Catchings' absence.
The same goes for center Tammy Sutton-Brown, who was maxed out but couldn't make a layup against Connecticut. Sutton-Brown averaged 12 points and 5.4 boards -- second on the team in both categories -- in the regular season, but chipped in just 3.0 ppg and 2.3 rpg in the first round. She started all three games but shot only 3-for-17 from the field. Indiana will not win if these two don't find their confidence and start playing like they did in the regular season.
Ford is a big X factor for Detroit, and without her, the Shock likely wouldn't have beaten New York. She must continue to put up double-doubles in every game. Detroit lives and dies by its starter production -- and since the Shock have All-Stars at every position, it usually works. But that means Deanna Nolan and Katie Smith can't wait until the fourth quarter to find their rhythm.
And of course, rebounding will remain a key. New York was able to take the lead in Game 3 because the Liberty started getting on the offensive glass. The Shock were able to fight back because they started rebounding.
Detroit must stay true to its strengths: getting points off its defense and putbacks on the offensive glass. Getting to the line is also important. The Shock averaged 23 free-throw attempts in the regular season but went to the line just 12 times in Game 3 against New York. That says Detroit, which usually goes hard to the rim to make plays, started to settle for the outside shot too much.
If Detroit doesn't play hard for 40 minutes in this series, this could be Indiana's first trip to the WNBA Finals.
Nancy Lieberman, an ESPN analyst and Hall of Famer, is a regular contributor to ESPN.com's women's basketball coverage. Contact her at www.nancylieberman.com.
Detroit just didn't play hard for 40 minutes each game of the first round. And if they do that again, the Shock will struggle against the Fever in the East finals.