SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- The Arco Arena court was quiet and
clean, free of any confetti or streamers. The celebratory T-shirts
stayed in their boxes and the WNBA championship trophy remained
The crowd thought it would see the Monarchs' coronation
Wednesday. Instead, the Sacramento players got tickets back to
Detroit for the decisive Game 5 in the WNBA Finals.
What a Shock.
Katie Smith scored 22 points, Cheryl Ford had 13 points and 10
rebounds, and the Detroit Shock tied the Finals with an emphatic
72-52 victory in Game 4.
Swin Cash and Deanna Nolan scored eight points apiece for the
Shock, who made a remarkable mental turnaround after seeming
disorganized and disinterested in most of the series' first three
games. After taking a six-point lead into the fourth quarter, the
Shock held Sacramento to two points on 1-of-12 shooting in a one-sided final period.
"We understand that they had everything ready for a
celebration, but we really wanted to get it back to Detroit," Cash
said. "We came together in the last two days. When we play as a
team, it's about us getting the championship."
After another remarkable momentum shift in this unpredictable
series, Saturday's finale will be played at Detroit's downtown Joe
Louis Arena because the Palace in suburban Auburn Hills is hosting
a Mariah Carey concert.
While the Monarchs sat stunned at their lockers after Game 4,
the Shock answered the dozens of messages left on their cell phones
by excited friends and fans.
"This is what the WNBA is all about -- competing and not giving
up," said Nolan, who battled through foul trouble. "That's what we
did. They came out very focused and determined to win the
championship on their own court, and we took that away."
The Monarchs intended to duplicate last season's title
celebration at home, where they hadn't lost a playoff game in 11
tries since 2001. Instead, they scored 26 points in the final three
quarters of a blowout loss.
"It was like our minds weren't working tonight," said Yolanda
Griffith, who had 10 points on 3-of-13 shooting. "We were thinking
of other things. Everything we preach and say we're going to do, we
didn't do it."
The Shock broke Sacramento's home playoff streak with Smith's
scoring and all the defensive tenacity demanded by coach Bill
Laimbeer, who publicly challenged his players to hate the Monarchs
before Game 4.
Nicole Powell scored all 13 of her points in the first half for
the Monarchs, who shot poorly and got outrebounded 40-26, showing
none of the playoff tenacity they've displayed under coach John
Whisenant. Sacramento must recover from a devastating missed
opportunity and another long flight to Michigan.
"I don't know where to start. We were awful," Whisenant said.
"We talked a good game, but we obviously weren't prepared to play.
... We were celebrating before the dance. We were reading clippings
of the second championship. That's very hard not to do that."
Though Detroit seemed finished after Game 3, Laimbeer still had
a couple of motivational tricks up his sleeve.
He ripped the officiating, earning a fine from the WNBA. He
criticized television commentators that his players hadn't even
heard, then repeatedly emphasized the us-against-the-world
mentality used by the Detroit Pistons squads the former NBA
All-Star center played for while winning titles in 1989 and 1990.
"You have to hate the other team to win a series like this,"
Laimbeer said. "Hating the other team is the natural instinct any
time, but you have to take it to the next level in a championship
series. All successful championship teams absolutely have to have
Sacramento led throughout its 20-point victory in Game 3, but
the Shock clearly had more focus facing elimination. Detroit went
ahead on Smith's 3-pointer midway through the second quarter and
led 43-37 at halftime.
The Shock led by 11 before going scoreless for nearly five
minutes in the third quarter. Sacramento got within 54-50, but the
Shock responded with a 12-2 run capped by Smith's backbreaking
3-pointer with 4:40 to play.
Neither team has played at the Detroit Red Wings' home arena,
but the Shock insist they'll have the home-court advantage in an
unlikely finish to the WNBA season.
"We're going to pack that place," Laimbeer said. "We're going
to have a ton of people in the upper rafters screaming, hollering,
yelling for the Detroit Shock."