Hard work, maturation pay off for Pierson

Updated: November 26, 2006, 10:54 PM ET

THE PLAYOFF DISH


Plenette Pierson
Plenette Pierson came off the bench for 16 points, hitting 10-of-13 foul shots. (Allen Einstein/NBAE via Getty Images)

DETROIT -- Before the WNBA Finals began, I left a message for former Texas Tech coach Marsha Sharp to talk about Plenette Pierson. Sharp called back right away.

Sharp resigned after last season, taking an opportunity to catch her breath after a couple of decades running a very successful program. She now works in athletic administration at Tech.

You might be wondering how Pierson and Sharp get along, considering Pierson was suspended for the 2001-2002 season just four games into what was her junior year. Of course, you might also recall that Pierson came back to have an excellent senior season, leading Tech to the Elite Eight.

"We wanted her to grow from that suspension, and she was outstanding," Sharp said. "She did everything she needed to do to earn her way back on the team. I am as proud of that individual commitment she made as anything I've had coaching in the last several years.

"We asked her to take responsibility for her behavior, and she did that. I'll always have a lot of admiration for Plenette and the way she handled that."

So Saturday, you know Sharp was feeling particularly good watching Pierson have the most important game of her WNBA career. Pierson came off the bench for Detroit, getting 16 points and six rebounds in the decisive Game 5, an 80-75 victory that clinched for the Shock their second title in four seasons. And recall that in the Shock's comeback in Game 2, Pierson was also a big factor, getting four points in the 6-0 run that started the fourth quarter and tied the game.

Pierson was drafted by Phoenix in 2003 and played two and a half seasons for the Mercury. She was traded to Detroit last year in exchange for Andrea Stinson, who has since retired, and the Shock's 2006 second-round draft pick. Yet another great trade for the Shock.

"I think coming to Detroit has had a big impact on my career, and playing for two former NBA players -- Bill [Laimbeer] and Rick [Mahorn] -- has helped me," Pierson said. "This team has the personality that I've always had. On my past teams, I've stuck out like a sore thumb because everyone doesn't have that edge like I do. I fit in really well here."

At 6 feet, 2 inches and very quick, Pierson is a matchup problem to guard for a lot of teams. And defensively, she's physically able to stop post players who are bigger than her and guards who are smaller.

"I've always felt like she plays a lot bigger than she is," Sharp said. "And I think particularly the way that Detroit likes to defend, she is very valuable. I've enjoyed watching her in that system. She can go out on the perimeter, plus help on those post players."

Pierson said she grew up a lot at Texas Tech, and that's part of why she has made it in the WNBA. Sharp and Pierson have not said publicly what exactly went on back in 2001 when Pierson was suspended. It's safe to say at the time Sharp made that decision, Pierson's attitude and demeanor were big problems.

Pierson had a lot to think about during her time away from her college team, and she could have let anger and frustration get the best of her. But she did just the opposite. She admitted she had been wrong.

"Being out for almost all my junior season, it was a test for me, both as a player and a person," Pierson said. "I could have given up or said, 'Forget it, I'm going to transfer.'

"Coach Sharp challenged me, she gave me a lot of rules I had to abide by. I was constantly working out and talking with her, trying to get back on the same page. I was willing to do whatever it took to get back on that team. I came through that. I told my teammates then, 'This was about a mistake I made, and it had nothing to do with anything coach Sharp did.' I had to rise to the occasion and earn my way back."

Saturday, Pierson helped win a WNBA championship. Mahorn, who works a lot with Pierson in practice said, "She's very hard-working. She's persistent in trying to learn the moves I teach her and she's just a good person to be around."

Pierson will be able to look at her WNBA championship ring and see everything that really went into getting it.

"Thinking about it all … it makes me feel great," she said. "Throughout my years of basketball, I've been trying to get to the top level. I had to go through a lot to get there. Who knows, this could only be the beginning for me. I hope there's more to come."



ESPN'S TAKE ON GAME 5

DETROIT -- The WNBA Finals might not have been the most compelling championship series we've seen in the league's 10-year history.

But Detroit played as well as it has all season in the final 20 minutes of Game 5, winning its second WNBA title in four seasons with an 80-75 victory over Sacramento on Saturday.

At halftime, though, it looked like the Monarchs might be celebrating their second consecutive championship. In the first two quarters, Sacramento dominated Detroit inside and led 44-36 at the break. Yolanda Griffith, DeMya Walker and Rebekkah Brunson had their way in the paint, combining for 20 points on 8-of-16 shooting. Detroit failed to take care of the ball, and Sacramento absolutely fed off Detroit's 10 turnovers. The Monarchs dominated almost every aspect, beating the Shock in points in the paint (18-10) and bench points (16-8).

But the second half was a completely different story, and I still can't believe how quickly the Shock turned the game around. The Monarchs missed their first seven shots of the third quarter, including three misses from Ticha Penicheiro, and Detroit scored 10 unanswered points en route to a 16-3 run. Detroit's Deanna Nolan put on a show, scoring 10 of her game-high 24 points in that span. I was surprised Sacramento failed to get a stop and ultimately finished the quarter with just nine points to the Shock's 22.

So what caused Sacramento's total collapse? Detroit's defense came out much more intense and aggressive in the second half, playing like the team that ranked as the league's second-best defense in the regular season.

The Shock also turned the ball over just seven times in the second half (that's one more than they had in the first quarter alone), and that was perhaps the biggest X-factor. The Monarchs rely on their defense to jump-start their offense. But with Detroit knocking down 54 percent (14-of-26) of their second-half shots, dominating the glass (20 rebounds to the Monarchs' 15) and taking better care of the ball, Sacramento was forced to rely on its halfcourt offense. More …
-- ESPN analyst Nancy Lieberman

FOR SMITH, FUN IS IN GETTING HERE

DETROIT -- You probably saw how it ended, with Katie Smith taking the final shot -- the ole nail in the coffin, as they say -- for the Detroit Shock on Saturday. Sacramento made that last expected push, cutting the Shock's lead to three points with 33 seconds to play. Too early to celebrate, even though the 19,671 here at Joe Louis Arena were already doing that.

Smith wasn't going to make that mistake. One more basket, and this rather remarkable Detroit comeback in the WNBA Finals was complete.

Who didn't think was going to make that basket?

Remember, it was just more than a week ago that the Shock got blown out on its home court in the Finals opener. Last Sunday, Detroit went down 2-1 in the series after getting pounded in Sacramento.

At that juncture, Detroit really did look finished. The Shock hadn't come close to beating the Monarchs in Sacramento in the 2005 or 2006 regular-season meetings, and now had lost big in a playoff game at Arco Arena. What was going to change for Game 4?

Well, everything. Led by Smith's 22 points, Detroit won and took the series back to the Motor City for a decisive fifth game.

So, it was the final minute Saturday, and with just one more basket, Detroit really could celebrate. Of course, it was Smith who made it with 14.8 seconds left, a 17-footer after she spun around to get loose from her defender. A shot that isn't easy, and yet Smith has made it look that way so many times.

"To me, that was like, 'Game over,' " Smith said. "You do it in pickup, you do it in practice, you do it in games. But in a game like this, it felt good to knock down shots when it was really needed."

Smith scored the Shock's last six points of the game. She snared the final rebound, with 3.5 seconds left. She tossed the ball in celebration, as Detroit won 80-75. Yeah, that's how it ended. You all saw that.

Let me tell you how it started. More …
-- ESPN.com's Mechelle Voepel



NOTABLE NUMBER

10 Yes, Sacramento has the best bench in the league. But in big games, your starters must produce. That simply wasn't the case for the Monarchs on Saturday. With the exception of Kara Lawson, Sacramento's other four starters combined to shoot just 10-for-40 from the field. Yolanda Griffith made only one field goal in the second half, Ticha Penicheiro went 0-for-4 after the break, DeMya Walker missed all seven of her second-half shots and Nicole Powell finished 2-for-7. -- ESPN's Nancy Lieberman


MONARCHS LET ONE SLIP AWAY

DETROIT -- The crying in the Sacramento locker room came from DeMya Walker's infant daughter, Zachara. She seemed to have the standard baby problems: hungry or tired or generally fussy or something like that.

She didn't know, of course, that her mom's team had just lost the WNBA Finals. Walker, cradling the little one, sat at her locker and shook her head.

"I'd like to say there was a reason," she said when asked about why the Monarchs' offense went south in the third quarter of Game 5, just when Detroit's came alive. "We were getting the same shots. Maybe [Detroit] was a tad more aggressive defensively. But for the most part, they just didn't fall.

"But we're not based on being an offensive team anyway. What it came down to is if we don't score, we can't let them score. They came down and got really easy baskets in the first couple of possessions that we had limited in the first half. That kind of got their engines going. A team like that, when they're down, you've got to keep them down. You can't let them see daylight."

The way this all turned out will bug the Monarchs for a while. Too many times, they had chances to shut out Detroit's "daylight" and didn't do it. More ... -- ESPN.com's Mechelle Voepel


PLAYER OF THE NIGHT
Deanna Nolan, Detroit
Deanna Nolan was the MVP of the WNBA Finals, and you can chalk that up to that jump shot of hers that Sacramento's defenders will see over and over and over in their nightmares.

Nolan had 24 points, shooting 10-of-23 from the floor, and once again proved nearly impossible to stop.

"Every year, her game has elevated," Detroit coach Bill Laimbeer said. "I'm hoping this brings her to bigger and better things. She has so much more in her than what she's shown to this point." -- ESPN.com's Mechelle Voepel

QUOTE OF THE NIGHT
Well I think we're not done yet. We're so young. We should have been here three of the last four years. … I envision great things for this ball club. We have a great nucleus and they enjoy playing with each other.
Shock coach Bill Laimbeer
THE RILEY FACTOR
Ruth Riley was the MVP of the 2003 Finals, when Detroit beat Los Angeles 2-1 in what was then a best-of-three series.

In the 2006 Finals, Riley never got her offense going. But she played very solidly on defense in the fourth and fifth games, and that was a big part of Detroit's comeback to win this title.

"A lot of the credit should go to Ruth -- she defensively gave us a big push," Detroit's Swin Cash said.

Riley was the do-it-all center for her Notre Dame team that won the NCAA title in 2001. She was a solid offensive force for the Shock's 2003 title team. In 2006, she embraced a different role.

"We have such talented players on our team, so if I can get them open for shots, that helps us," Riley said. "And then on the defensive end, if I can shut their post players down as much as possible, I feel like I'm doing my job." -- ESPN.com's Mechelle Voepel

DOGS' DAY
Three former Georgia players -- Deanna Nolan, Kara Braxton and Kedra Holland-Corn -- play for the Detroit Shock. Georgia coach Andy Landers was sitting courtside at Game 5 at Joe Louis Arena to see them win a WNBA title. For Nolan and Holland-Corn, it was the second.

"I'm just thankful they have a stage like this to play on," Landers said. "Most of the first half, that's what I was thinking as I watched the game."

Landers said he found himself particularly glued to watching Nolan and Katie Smith work together in Detroit's backcourt.

"I think Deanna deserved the MVP, but I think Katie did, too," Landers said. "I was intrigued watching them, because you can tell they have an incredible respect for each other. Their eyes are always searching the floor for each other, particularly in transition. That's just a great combination." -- ESPN.com's Mechelle Voepel

CASHING IN
In the time since Detroit won the 2003 WNBA title and now, Swin Cash has been through some difficult times, led by an ACL injury at the end of the 2004 season. She has been trying to return to form ever since, and all the while trying to keep a good working relationship with coach Bill Laimbeer. Which hasn't been easy for either strong personality in that equation.

Before Game 5, Cash said, "For me, personally, it's very gratifying just to play in the Finals again. I've been through so much this year. It's been a lot of different things, including stuff with Bill. Whether we win a championship or not, it was worth it because I learned a lot."

Cash didn't hit a basket Saturday, going 0-of-4 from the field. She did have four points on free throws, and impacted the game in other ways, including nine rebounds and five assists.

"This has been one of those seasons where you keep pressing and keep pressing," Cash said. "And the end result -- another WNBA championship." -- ESPN.com's Mechelle Voepel

HAYNIE'S FUTURE
Sacramento's Kristin Haynie did a lot in these Finals to go into her third WNBA season next summer with improved confidence. She had 13 points Saturday.

"I've learned a lot from my rookie year to my second year," Haynie said. "I've had great leaders to look after me in Yo [Griffith] and Ticha [Penicheiro]." -- ESPN.com's Mechelle Voepel

SIX PACK OF SUCCESS
Bill Laimbeer won his fourth title Saturday -- two as a player with the NBA's Detroit Pistons and two as coach of the Shock.

But even Laimbeer finishes second sometimes.

Detroit owner Bill Davidson, who was presented the WNBA championship trophy by league president Donna Orender immediately following Game 5, has won four titles in the last four years. In 2003, the Shock won the WNBA title. The following summer, of course, the Pistons' won the NBA crown. But also in 2004, Davidson's other pro team, the Tampa Bay Lightning, won the Stanley Cup. Add in the Pistons' titles in 1989 and '90 and the Shock's victory Saturday, and Davidson has half a dozen championships on his résumé. -- ESPN.com

WNBA FINALS RECAP
For a complete look at the WNBA Finals schedule, previous results and upcoming games, click here.

Game 4 recap:
Smith, Shock even series
Shock crash party
Highlights ESPN Video
Can Finals end on high note?

Game 3 recap:
Monarchs take 2-1 lead
Sacramento subs? Super
Highlights ESPN Video

Game 2 recap:
Monarchs collapse, series 1-1
Highlights ESPN Video
Persistence pays off for Smith, Nolan
Shock must avoid another poor start
Detroit's Lady Dogs must step up

Game 1 recap:
Monarchs set records in royal rout
Cash, Shock disappointing
Highlights ESPN Video
Powell powers Monarchs
Lawson, Walker in form
Can Detroit put drama aside?

Playoff Dish archive:
Sept. 6: Real Shock please stand?
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