Shock 72, Monarchs 52

Thursday, September 7th 2006, 6:11 am
By: News On 6

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) Most everybody outside their locker room thought the Detroit Shock would roll over in Game 4 of the WNBA finals.

Instead, they rolled on to a championship-deciding finale back home.

Katie Smith scored 22 points, Cheryl Ford had 13 points and 10 rebounds, and the Shock tied the best of 5 series at 2 games apiece with an emphatic 72-52 victory Wednesday night.

Swin Cash and Deanna Nolan scored 8 points each for the Shock, who faced stiff odds after losing Game 3 last weekend. Sacramento, the defending champion, hadn't lost a playoff game at home in 11 tries since 2001; and the Monarchs fans packed Arco Arena anticipating a repeat of last season's celebration.

But Detroit made a remarkable mental turnaround after seeming disorganized and disinterested in most of the series' first 3 games. After taking a 6 point lead into the 4th quarter, the Shock held Sacramento to 2 points on 1-12 shooting in an improbably one-sided final period.

"We played a little harder, and we played a little smarter,'' said Smith, who made three 3-pointers. "We obviously didn't want them to have their celebration tonight. We would like another chance to go home and take care of business.''

They got it. 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.

"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.''

While the Monarchs sat stunned at their lockers after Game 4, the Shock fielded the dozens of messages left on their cell phones by excited friends and fans. Sacramento made hasty plans for a long flight back to Detroit, leaving Thursday morning.

The Monarchs intended to duplicate last season's title celebration at home, complete with confetti, streamers and a trophy presentation at center court for their fans. Instead, they scored 26 points in the final 3 quarters of a blowout loss.

"It was like our minds weren't working,'' said Yolanda Griffith, who had 10 points on 3-13 shooting. "We were thinking of other things. Everything we preach and say we're going to do, we didn't do it.''

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.

"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.''

The Shock finally showed all the defensive tenacity demanded by coach Bill Laimbeer, who publicly challenged his players to hate the Monarchs. 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, repeatedly emphasizing 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.

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 2nd quarter and led 43-37 at halftime.

The Shock led by 11 before going scoreless for nearly 5 minutes in the 3rd 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.''