It's back to Detroit for decisive Game 5

Updated: September 7, 2006, 8:53 PM ET
Associated Press

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- The WNBA Finals have been unpredictable at almost every turn, so there's probably no point in prognostication about the decisive fifth game in Detroit on Saturday.

That didn't stop Monarchs center Yolanda Griffith from making a brash prediction moments after the Detroit Shock forced that finale with a stunning 72-52 victory in Sacramento on Wednesday night.

"We're still going to get that championship!" she yelled from center court -- mostly into the backs of disappointed, departing fans who had just watched the Shock dominate the defending champions.

In truth, nobody knows which club will show up with the proper mental attitude Saturday. After back-to-back 20-point blowout wins for both clubs in the last two games in Sacramento, the difference in this series clearly resides in the players' heads, not on the court.

"Effort has determined all four games," Sacramento's Kara Lawson said. "That's the only factor, in my eyes. They wanted (Game 4) a little bit more, apparently. We have to get that desire back."

Despite wide differences in nearly every aspect of their roster makeups and strategic approaches, these clubs have been evenly matched. Sacramento's depth and defensive determination provided superior results for most of the first three games, but Detroit's five solid starters and strong mental game surfaced when the Shock faced elimination.

Shock coach Bill Laimbeer lambasted his players' attitudes after Game 3, and his words must have played some role in their inspired performance three days later. Laimbeer convinced his players everyone wanted them to lose, and they responded with all the intensity they lacked earlier in the series.

"There was nothing magical that the coaching staff did," Laimbeer said. "The Finals are about a test of wills, and who wants it more. No question about it, we came in with a chip on our shoulder to prove who we are."

Now Sacramento coach John Whisenant -- who's more laid back than Laimbeer, yet still no stranger to bombastic sideline behavior -- must find a motivational groove that will shake up his roster.

"Maybe we subconsciously wanted to go back to Detroit, I don't know," Whisenant said. "I don't think so, at least in my case. ... [The Shock] were intense and played hard, and we weren't ready to deal with that. It will be harder to do in Detroit than it should have been here, on our court."

The Shock took control of Game 4 when Cheryl Ford took a page from her father's strategies, establishing low-post position that Karl Malone would envy from the first possession onward. With Sacramento's post players exhausting themselves on defense, the Monarchs looked slow and tentative on offense.

"When we watched film, we knew that it was all about the post," said Ford, who had 13 points and 10 rebounds. "It was us not working hard to get position, and we let them get easy post position. We knew we had to work."

The WNBA season will end in an NHL arena: The Shock, forced from their suburban Palace by a Mariah Carey concert, will host Sacramento at Joe Louis Arena in downtown Detroit. The baskets and court must be installed, and neither team will have much familiarity with the atmosphere inside the illustrious hockey rink.

Both clubs flew back to Michigan on Thursday. Both will get one more day of workouts and adjustments before Saturday, when the Shock hope their fans will make the trek into downtown to see a champion's crowning.

"We're not on our home court, but we're still on our home court," Detroit's Deanna Nolan said. "We've played there before in a playoff game. It's in the city now, so we're going to have more urbanites, as you call it, and more people there."


Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press

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