Shock must avoid another slow start in Game 3

Updated: September 2, 2006, 2:52 AM ET
By Mechelle Voepel | Special to ESPN.com

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- The escape act worked for Detroit in Game 2 of the WNBA Finals. But do the Shock really want to have to do that again Sunday? Of course not.

Swin Cash
Terrence Vaccaro/Getty ImagesSwin Cash and Detroit have fallen behind by double figures in the first half of both Games 1 and 2. But the Shock can't expect to survive another poor start on the road at Arco Arena.

Down by seven after one quarter Friday, nine at halftime and six at the third quarter, the Shock pulled the old 25-pound rabbit out of a hat in the final stanza. Outscoring Sacramento 25-9 in the fourth quarter gave the Shock a 73-63 victory.

Thanks to much better defense and the arrival of clutch shooting in the second half, Detroit was able to avoid its fate from Game 1. Then, the Shock also fell behind, trailing by six after one quarter and 15 at the break. The Shock didn't come back from that, eventually losing 95-71.

And Friday's outcome notwithstanding, it doesn't seem likely that Detroit will get out of another hole if it starts Game 3 digging one again. Not in Arco Arena, which will be very loud and purple Sunday afternoon.

So the Shock really must get off to a better start, and Detroit's players think they'll be able to do that.

"As the series goes along, you start understanding people's tendencies," Detroit forward Swin Cash said. "You see more film. They know us pretty well, we know them. It's now about being proactive and going after stuff.

"It was physical in there [Friday], and the refs were letting us play. Down the stretch, Cheryl Ford came down with some big rebounds for us. Ruth Riley did an excellent job when she had two key blocks and a putback. Sometimes when the game isn't going your way, you can put your head down or do something about it. I thought the key players did that in our frontline."

And that will be crucial again in Game 3. The Monarchs had 10 offensive rebounds in the first half of Game 1 and seven in the opening half of Game 2. In both cases, that was a factor in the Monarchs having halftime leads.

"That gives them a lot of momentum; we have to do a better job of giving them one shot and out," Riley said.

Guard Deanna Nolan agreed, adding, "They get their big scoring from second shots. Once we shut down their 3-point shooters and close off the posts and make it hard for them to score, they have to have those second shots."

Overall, the Monarchs outrebounded the Shock in both games, 31-29 Wednesday and 30-28 Friday. But in the second game, Detroit controlled the glass in the second half, 18-10.

"We made them do the things we wanted them to do, and took away some things," Cash said. "Obviously, our guards came up big in the fourth quarter. And our frontline held their ground. After being outrebounded earlier, we held them off the boards late."

The other factor that really helped Detroit on Friday and will be needed Sunday is the bench. Plenette Pierson, Kara Braxton and Elaine Powell each scored six points. Pierson also had four rebounds, two assists, two steals and three blocked shots. Plus, all three did their jobs defensively.

"We're pretty fortunate, especially to have Kara and Plenette be able to come in and take some pressure off Cheryl [Ford] and I," Riley said. "It would be very hard to go out to Sacramento 0-2. We've had a tough time in their building; it's a great place to play. Hopefully, we'll get some momentum going from this one."

The Monarchs, though, have to shake off the frustration of feeling like they might have had the Shock put away, and then let up. However, they've been through this before. In last season's Finals, Sacramento lost Game 2 in Connecticut on a late 3-pointer by then-Sun reserve Brooke Wyckoff, which leveled that series 1-1. But the Monarchs then came back and won two in a row at home for the WNBA title.

Sacramento's bench has been a strength all season and very much a key in the playoffs. But it seemed Friday that Sacramento coach John Whisenant may have relied too much on his reserves at the wrong time.

When Katie Smith hit a 3-pointer at the end of the third quarter, cutting Sacramento's lead to six, the Monarchs needed to begin the fourth quarter strongly and stop Detroit's momentum.

However, Whisenant had only one starter on the floor -- Kara Lawson -- to begin the final period. He didn't sub in Yolanda Griffith, Nicole Powell and DeMya Walker until 2 minutes in, when Detroit had tied the score 54-54.

Walker was the only one of the Monarchs in foul trouble, so that wasn't the reason. Whisenant appeared to roll the dice on his reserves being able to hang in there a few minutes and then hand off the baton for the final laps. But they didn't, and by that time, Detroit was on a run that couldn't be stopped.

Whisenant said he saw and sensed fatigue from his team. If so, that probably shouldn't be a problem on Sunday, when just being back home should give Sacramento the energy boost it needs. The Monarchs lost just three games at home this season, none since June 23. Detroit fell there 94-61 on July 30. In 2005, the Shock was pounded 91-51 at Arco.

So Sacramento will be extremely glad to be at home. But the Monarchs also know they allowed the Shock to get new life again Friday.

"Now they are back right where they want to be," Whisenant said. "Right in the thick of things."

Mechelle Voepel of The Kansas City Star is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. She can be reached at mvoepel123@yahoo.com.

Mechelle Voepel joined ESPN.com in 1996 and covers women's college hoops, the WNBA, the LPGA, and additional collegiate sports for espnW.

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