Commentary

Defending champs lack heart, willpower in Game 2 loss

Updated: September 9, 2007, 1:56 PM ET
By Mechelle Voepel | Special to ESPN.com

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- Wednesday night, Phoenix was the team delivering the, "It's only a flesh wound!" line after falling 108-100 to Detroit in Game 1 of the WNBA Finals. On Saturday, it was the Shock's turn to shrug off a loss.

Except this was a "bigger" loss.

Or was it? From a numbers standpoint, yes: 98-70. If the Mercury and coach Paul Westhead wanted that margin to be even bigger, it could have been.

In Phoenix's defeat, Diana Taurasi had a very subpar performance and the Mercury were outrebounded by 18, but the game still went down to the last minute. In Detroit's loss Wednesday, nobody for the Shock played well and the game was over in the third quarter, if not at halftime.

So … is Detroit in more trouble because it got blown out and Phoenix didn't? Not necessarily. The Shock lost its two games of the WNBA Finals last year by 24 and 20, but still won the championship.

Similarly, the Shock's previous two losses in this postseason were not close. Detroit fell to New York by 22 and to Indiana by 10 (although it seemed like more) in the first game of both of those series.

Bill Laimbeer basically said everyone with the Shock -- coaches included -- flunked on Saturday. And although he doesn't like that, of course, Detroit has been down this road before.

"We know that we are resilient; we have great heart and willpower," he said. "I expect us to come out the next game and play spectacular. I guess sometimes we don't handle prosperity very well."

Sometimes, maybe it's good for us to get our butts whupped. It hopefully gets us to pay attention to the details and, effort-wise, decide we want it more. … The bottom line was Phoenix was the aggressor, and they brought the energy. They came out and took it.
Detroit's Katie Smith

Indeed, the Shock really do have heart and willpower … except those times when they don't.

As Katie Smith, who had just five points Saturday, put it, "Sometimes, maybe it's good for us to get our butts whupped. It hopefully gets us to pay attention to the details and, effort-wise, decide we want it more.

"It wasn't even X's and O's or defense and offense. The bottom line was Phoenix was the aggressor, and they brought the energy. They came out and took it. That's disappointing for us, because basically we didn't give much to our fans. We didn't give them what they paid for."

By the third quarter, the Shock were barely giving a minimal effort on defense. This can happen in basketball, of course: You miss a lot of shots, you start getting cranky and listless on the other end. And Detroit missed a lot of shots (27 of 82, 32.9 percent).

It was one of those days on which the Shock would clank a 2-footer, get the rebound, clank another, get the rebound, lose the ball … and then the Mercury would swish a 3-pointer like it was so easy an infant could do it. Phoenix made 16 treys, Detroit three.

Phoenix shot "only" 41.7 percent in this game, yet it felt like about 80 percent. It just seemed as if everything clicked for Phoenix … but that was because from the start, the Mercury were working harder than the Shock.

"I think our effort, energy and togetherness just wasn't there," Smith said.

Only two Detroit players scored in double figures: Deanna Nolan had 12 points (on 6-of-18 shooting) and Swin Cash 10. Nolan never got to the foul line. Cheryl Ford, who missed Game 1 because of a knee injury, started Saturday and had five points and seven rebounds. But she played just 16 minutes, 19 seconds. Laimbeer said once the game started to get away, there was certainly no point in keeping Ford out there.

Detroit's two bench stars from Game 1, Deanna Nolan, rebounded OK on Saturday (they combined for 16 boards) but struggled mightily from the field. Braxton went 4 of 14 and had some of those not-concentrating misses that drive Laimbeer nuts. Pierson was 2-for-11 and just wasn't the same player she was on Wednesday.

Shannon "Pee Wee" Johnson came off the bench Saturday and at least tried to give the Shock some life. But little of what Detroit did defensively really worked, and offensively, all the misses meant the Shock never got into any rhythm.

"Shots weren't falling, and that can happen any day," Braxton said. "It happened to be today for us. But, I mean, it's nothing that we haven't done before. We looked like that last year against Sacramento and came back. Our heads aren't down; we just know what we have to do in Phoenix.

"They tried to shut down the middle more, but that wasn't anything we didn't expect. For some reason, we do seem to do better when our backs are against the wall. It's not easy, but maybe we need it. That's OK -- as long as we get to where we need to be."

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.