Persistence pays off for Detroit's Nolan, Smith
AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- There may have been a brief time in their lives when Detroit's Deanna Nolan and Katie Smith were shy about continuing to keep shooting. You know, maybe when they were toddlers or something, a little doubt crept in. They might have gotten just a bit hesitant. But they shook it off and that was pretty much the last of that.
They know shooters aren't supposed to stop just because the ball, net and rim aren't cooperating.
At the end of the first quarter Friday -- which was basically almost the equivalent of an elimination game for the Shock -- Nolan was 2-of-6 from the floor and Smith was 0-for-2. Detroit trailed by seven.
By halftime, things were not looking better. Nolan was 3-of-10, Smith 0-for-3. They had combined for more turnovers (four) than shots made from the field. Detroit trailed 42-33.
It all changed in the second half, though. Smith went 6-of-10, Nolan 5-for-10. And while they were in the process of doing that, Sacramento was suddenly in need of a GPS tracking device to even locate the basket. The Monarchs' 7-of-34 shooting disaster in the final 20 minutes couldn't stand up to the suddenly sensational Shock.
With a 73-63 win at the Palace of Auburn Hills, Detroit at least now has a chance of winning the title. Nolan finished 8-of-20 from the field and had a game-high 21 points. Smith was 6-of-13 and scored 16.
Nolan was asked when she thought the tide turned in favor of the Shock.
"When Katie hit that 3 at the end of the third quarter," Nolan said. "We knew then we had the momentum going into the fourth quarter."
That was Smith's first 3-pointer of the game, and it came with 2.2 seconds left in the third quarter. In the final period, Detroit outscored Sacramento 25-9.
"I think we just had so much energy going forward," Detroit's Ruth Riley said. "Katie hit a big shot."
Sacramento coach John Whisenant knew that, too.
"Katie's a handful; she's always been," Whisenant said. "I call her an Ohio State fullback. She's strong and powerful. And she's a deadly shooter. I would have much rather she didn't make [that shot]. But, I mean, I still thought we could win the game."
Indeed, the Monarchs began the fourth quarter still up by six points. But in the final period, Smith and Nolan outscored Sacramento all by themselves. They had 13 points to the Monarchs' nine.
Nolan was the only player on either team to go all 40 minutes, and she acknowledged being pretty frustrated at halftime.
"In the first half, when I was in the air they were kind of bumping me," Nolan said. "So in the second half, I made sure I separated myself. I took that extra dribble just to get away from the defense and get my shot off."
Smith said she just never felt in the flow of the game in the first half. She had 21 points in Wednesday's Game 1, but that wasn't nearly enough in that 95-71 Sacramento win. And it appeared for a while that Friday just wasn't going to be her night, nor the Shock's.
Smith won two titles in the ABL with Columbus, but this is her first trip to the WNBA Finals. At 32, she's hearing the clock ticking on chances to win it all in this league.
"You might not get back to this position," Smith said. "I haven't been here before, and who knows if I'll ever get back. But I'm sure going to leave it all out there and try my darnedest to help out this team."
Meanwhile, in the Sacramento locker room, DeMya Walker was disappointed but pragmatic about what happened to the Monarchs.
"Katie is the best shooter in the league, you know?" Walker said. "Katie gets a 3 with a hand in her face, you don't shake your head. You just say, 'That's Katie.' Deanna Nolan is the fastest player in the league. If she's able to get off and running off the dribble, it's really hard to stop her.
"But those aren't the only players that beat us. They had their role players coming in -- like Kara Braxton and Plenette Pierson. They each got six points, and that helped Katie and Nolan."
Walker's teammate Ticha Penicheiro sat next to her in the locker room, looking quite dejected. She went 0-for-8 from the field, watching Smith and Nolan get the best of the backcourt battle.
"I feel like I hurt my team; if I had knocked down a couple shots, maybe they would have changed the defense," Penicheiro said. "But I didn't do that.
"I was guarding Nolan for the most part. I look at her stat sheet -- she had 21 points, and the points she scored on me, I didn't think it was terrible defense. She had some screens I couldn't get over, and they run a lot of stuff for them. They have like 5,000 plays and they really utilize them well."Mechelle Voepel of The Kansas City Star is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. She can be reached at email@example.com.
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