- THE PLAYOFF DISHBy Graham Hays, ESPN.comPlenette Pierson, blocking Rebekkah Brunson's shot, and the Shock were unstoppable. (Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)
Maybe Bill Laimbeer was right; maybe we were to blame all along.
Or maybe not.
Just as the Shock, and not officials, critics or fans on the grassy knoll, deserved the blame for the team's lackluster showing in two losses (as well as the first half of their win in Game 2), it's the Shock who deserve all the credit for outworking, outrebounding, outshooting and generally outplaying the Monarchs in a 72-52 win. Simply put, the Shock are vulnerable to criticism precisely because they're capable of playing like they did on Wednesday night.
During the regular season, the Monarchs beat the Liberty by 21 and the Lynx by 27; they beat the Shock by 33. Think either the Lynx or Liberty could have won a playoff game by 20 points in Sacramento?
The Shock are the basketball equivalent of late-night ads for the commodities they advertise long after Conan has signed off. Past performance is no guarantee of future success (or future failure).
But sometimes they make it look so easy.
With just less than nine minutes remaining in the fourth quarter and the Shock already leading by seven points, Katie Smith, amidst an otherwise brilliant night, fired an airball from the right wing. But even with Monarchs arrayed around the basket, Detroit's Elaine Powell snuck in and grabbed the rebound on the run before laying it in for a nine-point lead.
The fact that Powell was even in the game as a result of Deanna Nolan's foul trouble that limited her to just 13 minutes should have been an indication that a celebration was on tap at Arco Arena. Instead, Powell came up with a play that was emblematic of a complete team effort. From Ruth Riley swatting Yolanda Griffith for just about her only stat of the night to Cheryl Ford posting another double-double and Kara Braxton playing 16 minutes with honest-to-goodness intensity, the Shock out-teamed the league's uber team.
The same team that Laimbeer repeatedly called out for quitting in earlier games withstood Sacramento's best rally and came out with a knockout punch of its own, holding the Monarchs to two points in the fourth quarter.
If the Shock duplicate Wednesday's effort in Game 5 on Saturday at Joe Louis Arena (ESPN2, 3:30 p.m. ET), they'll be crowned champions. But don't put too much stock in the statistical nugget that every previous WNBA Finals ended with a win by the home team. The Shock can't be counted on to repeat their own performance from game to game, let alone maintain the historical consistency of a decade's worth of basketball.
Laimbeer has flipped seemingly every switch on the panel during this series, trying to find the one that turns on the light for his team. Now, the question is, does he know which switch did the trick?
With momentum and homecourt advantage on their side, the Shock have their fate in their own hands.
The catch is, with this team, that's a 50-50 proposition.
ESPN'S TAKE ON GAME 4
SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- This is the Detroit team we have been waiting to see. The Shock were physical, full of energy and aggressive. We've said all along they are the most talented team in the league, and on Wednesday, it showed.
They did all the things that make Detroit so good: dominated the glass (plus-14), kept their turnovers low (15; they averaged 22.7 in the series' first three games), forced Sacramento to take shots in the half-court (the Monarchs shot 32 percent from the field) and even outscored the Monarchs' bench 21-11. Detroit also attempted more shots than Sacramento (69-63) for the first time this series, and that's because the Shock took better care of the ball.
Excellent ball movement also was key. Detroit used the quick skip pass to the weak-side to finally break down Sacramento's white-line defense.
Katie Smith once again showed why she's one of the greatest players this game has ever seen. And kudos to Ruth Riley, Cheryl Ford and the rest of Detroit's posts for the super job they did containing Sacramento's posts.
Lastly, Detroit coach Bill Laimbeer has made it clear that he is unhappy with comments made by me and fellow ESPN analyst Doris Burke. But, as we said on SportsCenter, our job is to offer analysis, opinion and perspectives. And given the differential in the score in Detroit's losses -- 20- and 22-point routs -- we feel we did that accurately and fairly.
-- ESPN analyst Nancy LiebermanSHOCK POSTS LEAVE MARK
In Game 1 of the WNBA Finals, Sacramento's bench proved it could positively influence the outcome of a game without putting up a lot of points.
In Game 4 Wednesday, they took the more predictable route of negatively influencing the outcome by not scoring.
Kristin Haynie and Scholanda Dorrell were part of that mix after combining for five points and one assist, but the frontcourt trio of Rebekkah Brunson, Erin Buescher and Hamchetou Maiga-Ba (who left with an injury but still matched her postseason average with 12 minutes) were noticeably undone by Detroit frontcourt reserves Kara Braxton and Plenette Pierson.
Despite shooting 44 percent to Sacramento's 32 percent, the Shock picked up nearly as many offensive rebounds (16) as the Monarchs had defensive rebounds (17) on their way to dominating the glass.
After averaging eight rebounds a game in the first three games, Sacramento's three top reserves combined for just five in Game 4, two fewer than Braxton and Pierson combined.
Whether it was pounding the boards or shutting off the step-through move that Buescher and DeMya Walker use to perfection, Detroit's domination of the post set the tone for the game just as much as their ability to stretch Sacramento's defense on the perimeter.
-- ESPN.com's Graham HaysNOTABLE NUMBER
38 Just how much did Detroit's frontcourt dominate its Sacramento counterpart? The Shock poured in 38 points in the paint to the Monarchs' 16. Yolanda Griffith, DeMya Walker, Rebekkah Brunson and Erin Buescher combined to shoot just 7-for-28 from the field.ARCO MAGIC RUNS OUT
The Monarchs had won 11 straight playoff games at Arco Arena. In fact, Sacramento hadn't lost at home in the postseason since Aug. 24, 2001, 74-73 to Los Angeles. But that streak came to an end Wednesday.
Prepared to celebrate their second straight title, the chilled champagne and confetti that would have covered the arena never was brought out.
"This is my first playoff loss in this building and it doesn't feel very good,'' said Sacramento coach John Whisenant, who added he was worried about his team's attitude in Wednesday's shootaround.
Said Detroit coach Bill Laimbeer: "We came into this game with a chip on our shoulders with something to prove. Now we're going back home and we'll pack Joe Louis for Game 5.'' -- Associated Press
PLAYER OF THE NIGHT Katie Smith, Detroit
Katie Smith might have the most experience of any championship rookie in the history of organized basketball.
This isn't Jerome Bettis finally reaching the Super Bowl; this is a quirk of record-keeping. Smith has appeared in a Final Four, won two titles in the ABL (which was certainly the WNBA's equal in quality, if not funding, during its brief existence) and captured gold in the Olympics and World Championship.
So it shouldn't surprise anyone that on a court where she was at times the only player without a WNBA championship ring, she looked entirely comfortable in the big-game spotlight.
Smith finished with a game-high 22 points in Detroit's 72-52 win in Game 4 on Wednesday. No other player on either side came within nine points of her, but more than sheer statistical dominance, Smith led the game in poise. She made eight field goals, three free throws and assisted on three other baskets while committing just two turnovers. She was steady, she was lethal, and yes, she ensured "skip pass" will get heavy rotation in the vernacular for the next three days.
Maybe Smith hasn't been here before, but she has most certainly been there before. -- ESPN.com's Graham Hays
QUOTE OF THE NIGHT “I don't know where to start. We were awful. ”
— Sacramento coach John Whisenant
SHOCK CRASH MONARCHS' PARTY 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. More
-- ESPN.com's Mechelle Voepel
CAN GRIFFITH GO THE DISTANCE? Yolanda Griffith's spirit appears willing, but how much is left in her legs?
For the second year in a row, Griffith struggled in the fourth game of the WNBA Finals. Last year, the Monarchs overcame her 3-for-11 shooting to beat Connecticut and clinch the title, a performance that was overshadowed by the MVP trophy she deservedly won. But heading back to Detroit after the Monarchs squandered a chance to take care of business at home, it's tough to overlook Griffith's 3-for-13 shooting on Wednesday.
The veteran has been simply phenomenal once again in the postseason, boosting her production after a modest regular season. But after a season full of back-to-back games to accommodate the same World Championship from which she recently withdrew, and facing Detroit's deep, athletic and young frontline, is the tank running dry just inches from the finish line?
The Monarchs will need her leadership in Detroit, but they'll also need her points. -- ESPN.com's Graham Hays
GO LONG The WNBA Finals have gone the distance on five prior occasions -- but haven't needed the decisive game of the series since 2004. Since the league switched to a best-of-five format just two seasons ago, this year's Finals also mark the longest in league history.
Detroit fans will be sure to notice that the home team has won each of those deciding games:
2004: Storm, best-of-three
2003: Shock, best-of-three
1999: Comets, best-of-three
1998: Comets, best-of-three
1997: Comets, best-of-one
COMPLETE SCHEDULE For a complete look at the WNBA Finals schedule, previous results and upcoming games, click here.
Game 1 recap:
• Monarchs set records in royal rout
• Cash, Shock disappointing
• Powell powers Monarchs
• Lawson, Walker in form
• Can Detroit put drama aside?
Playoff Dish archive:
• Sept. 3: Penicheiro's playground
• Sept. 1: Cash answers call
• Aug. 30: Bench big in royal rout
• Aug. 26: Limited, Douglas shines
• Aug. 24: Shock strike first
• Aug. 20: Sun hinge on Douglas' foot
• Aug. 19: Monarchs, bench press on
• Aug. 18: Douglas goes Hollywood
• Aug. 17: Shock guards steal show