THE PLAYOFF DISH
By Graham Hays, ESPN.com
Plenette 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 Lieberman
SHOCK 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 Hays
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