Detroit crashes Monarchs' party in Game 4

Updated: September 7, 2006, 2:27 AM ET
By Mechelle Voepel | Special to ESPN.com

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Hope I'm not going too old-school here, but I'll lean on a long-favorite analogy.

Nicole Powell
Rich Pedroncelli/AP PhotoThe Shock made sure Nicole Powell and the Monarchs wouldn't clinch their second straight title on Wednesday.

Game 4 of the WNBA Finals reminded me of the "Mary Tyler Moore Show." That is, the frequently repeated gag of Mary's parties always turning out horrible.

Actually, as Rhoda once put it, "Mary … your parties are disasters. I thought you knew. How could you not know?"

To which Mary conceded, "I knew. I just didn't know everybody else knew."

Well, the Sacramento Monarchs' party on Wednesday was a disaster, uncomfortably shared by 14,000-plus fans at Arco Arena and whatever part of the ESPN2 audience that wasn't dancing around the living room in Detroit Shock jerseys.

Starting the evening loud and proud, ready to celebrate a repeat, the Sacramento spectators instead all confronted that dreadful situation that probably everyone has been in at least once: How to escape a party that's totally bombing.

You really want to get out … but you don't want to hurt the host's feelings. Still, you see people creeping away and think, "Oh, man, I don't want to be the last one here."

For the record, the score of Wednesday's stinker was 72-52. Of course, it was a blast of a bash for Detroit. And the Shock should enjoy this.

In Detroit's locker room after the game, coach Bill Laimbeer yelled, "Hey guys, we held them to two points in the fourth quarter!" A few whoops went up from Detroit's players, who now go "home" -- pretty much -- for a decisive Game 5.

Sure, they'll be playing in Joe Louis Arena on Saturday afternoon because Mariah Carey has dibs on the Palace of Auburn Hills. But at this point, the Shock would be happy to play in the airport parking lot back in Motown, because it has the chance to win another title.

"Let's pack the Joe," said Detroit's Swin Cash, who had eight points, six rebounds and five assists -- the kind of do-the-little-things game she prides herself on.

Katie Smith led the way with 22 points, and got exactly what she said she wanted from her team in Game 4: The Shock put up a fight. And it was more than good enough.

Detroit, in fact, was so dominant in the second half that it largely removed Sacramento's fans from the equation. Yet Shock starting center Ruth Riley said she didn't even notice that, because she was so focused on getting done what Detroit needed her to do.

Riley didn't attempt a shot, nor did she have an assist. And yet she had a very good game.

"Ruth Riley was big," Laimbeer said, referring to more than just her 6-foot-5 frame. "She had a doughnut [scoring] but that doesn't say what she did on the court for us. She was physical out there, she got some rebounds."

Said Riley: "The effort wasn't there in Game 3. [The Monarchs] are really effective when they can crash the boards and get easy baskets around the paint. If we can limit that, which is what we did, and match their intensity, that puts us in a better position."

And it puts the Monarchs in the unenviable position of trying to boost their spirits for another plane ride. It forces them to forget that the party went wrong, and instead remember there is still a championship to be won.

As difficult emotionally as that might be, there's probably not a WNBA team more likely to be able to handle it well. The unity that the Monarchs show in victory is there in defeat, too.

Remember, this is a locker room with the unsinkable Kara Lawson, who would have been on the Titanic's decks saying, "Hey, everybody, it's OK! At least it's April! I bet the water's not as cold as it was in January or February!"

As for going back to Detroit, Lawson said -- and looked like she really meant it -- "We have a chance to win the championship on an opponent's home court … I can't wait for it."

This is a locker room with Ticha Penicheiro, who gazed on the bright side after Wednesday's game: Now, the Monarchs have more time together.

"I guess it wasn't meant for us to depart so soon from each other," Penicheiro said. "We have a couple more days to enjoy that. We have great chemistry. We just can't start pointing fingers. We play as a team, we lose as a team.

"It's a matter of just letting it go. We have 40 more minutes; it's not over. It's very disappointing, but we have another chance."

DeMya Walker then turned the spin cycle on full-throttle, saying now the pressure was off the Monarchs. And you know what? That's exactly the right way to look at it. Because at some point Wednesday, the Monarchs got so weighed down by what wasn't happening that they stopped being able to make anything happen at all.

"We're human beings," Walker said. "When you want to win so bad, and there's so many things going on outside … it's hard to tell yourself, 'That [rebound] didn't matter, you can get the next one.' When you know every possession counts.

"So, ironically, I think this is pretty good for us. It's like, 'OK, we got that one out of our system.' Now, we've just got to feel good about where we are."

The Monarchs' party didn't pan out. Now, they'll try to make sure Detroit's doesn't.

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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