Usually, when a team clinches a playoff berth their fans are filled with excitement at the prospect that their team might have a shot at a potential championship. After all, as the many clichés about the post season will tell you, it is the second season, every team is at 0-0, and all the rest of that rot.
That would be fine and dandy for any other team but the Tulsa Shock.
No matter how the 2015 WNBA season ends for the team, they will not be the Tulsa Shock anymore. It has been played out time and again that this is the final season for the WNBA in Tulsa no matter how deep Fred Williams and his team ply through the playoffs. It doesn’t matter whether or not they bow out in the first round or raise the championship trophy at the end of September they are done and bound for the Dallas suburb of Arlington for 2016 and beyond.
Historically, the Shock franchise has done well in the post season, winning the WNBA Championship in 2003, 2006 and 2008 as the Detroit version of the team. It is possible that the Shock might tack on a fourth title in what might be their final season with the Shock name.
The WNBA Playoffs are different from the NBA playoff in that fewer games are played in the individual series leading up to the Finals.
The first two playoff rounds follow a tournament format with each team playing a rival in a best-of-three series, with the first team to win two games advancing into the next round, while the other team is eliminated from the playoffs.
For the first round, the matchups by seed are 1st vs 4th and 2nd vs 3rd. In the second round, the successful team plays against the other advancing team of the same conference. This leaves one surviving team from each conference.
In both rounds, the best-of-three series follows a 1–1–1 home-court pattern, meaning that the higher-seeded team will have home court in games 1 and 3 while the other team plays at home in game 2. This pattern has been in place since 2010 (changed from 1–2 format, where the lower seed hosted the opening game).
In the Shock’s case, their first round opponent is the Phoenix Mercury, the 2014 WNBA defending champions.
As of this writing the Shock are only down two players, Riquna Williams, who has been out since August 30th with an undisclosed left leg injury. Karima Christmas is also day to day with a right hand injury sustained on September 8.
They will likely enter the playoffs with Williams sidelined, but as far as that goes, the Shock have been playing down a player or two all season long so the adjustment is relatively minor.
Coach Williams did say that the team is “banged up in places” after the Shock’s emotional 91-87 victory over the Mercury in the season finale on Sunday afternoon, but in the same conversation he said that “every player is set to step it up in the playoffs.”
Poise and control against the Mercury
There is no easy way to say this: the Phoenix Mercury are bullies. One of the things that the Shock did in the games they won against them was overcome the ability of the Mercury to get themselves to the foul line, a place where they are virtually perfect. The matchup of Tulsa’s Courtney Paris and Phoenix’s Brittany Griner should be fun to watch. Both are very tough in the middle and their battle will be quite entertaining.
With the loss of Skylar Diggins to and ACL tear early on in the regular season, several players stepped up to take up the slack. Riquna Williams led the Shock in points with 452, shooting 40% from the field and draining 56 three-point shots (46%).
Her listing as “day-to-day” according to Coach Williams makes her status uncertain for the playoffs so Odyssey Sims and veterans Plenette Pierson and Karima Christmas should be there to pick up the slack. Sims was third on the regular season scoring sheet with 368 points and she was brackets by Pierson in second place with 384 and Christmas with 338.
The injury demon has Christmas in an uncertain position as she sat the final games of the regular season with a hand injury. Fred Williams stated that he is leaning on his veterans to provide guidance going forward into the post season as both Pierson and Christmas have been to the Championship podium, with Pierson winning the title in Detroit twice (2006, 2008) and Christmas winning the title with Indiana in 2012.
The rebounding talents of former OU star Courtney Paris will be put to the test in the playoffs. The sixth year pro notched nabbed an impressive 317 boards in the 2015 regular season, including 215 defensive rebounds. She led the league averaging 9.3 boards per game.
Any other year this reporter would predict that the Shock would bow out early. Then again, they stunk and the playoffs weren’t an option. Without consuming much of the child’s fruit flavored soft drink, the Tulsa Shock are in a good position to win the big prize.
This season two factors come into play.
First, the Shock are the best they have ever been in Tulsa. That means a deep run into the 2015 WNBA is certainly possible, even though they have drawn a powerhouse team in the first round. The second factor is of course the emotional ride the team has been on since the announcement that the team was done in Tulsa after the end of the season.
The pendulum swung down in terms of the teams morale after the relative one-two punch of losing the team’s Tulsa all-star Skylar Diggins in early July followed by the announcement of the team’s move, but they battled back and nabbed a playoff spot when they could have easily mailed the season in and awaited greener pastures in the DFW profit zone.
They didn’t, and Coach Williams delivered on his promise to lead the Shock into the playoffs.
This writer therefore believes that the Shock can pull the upset and advance to the WNBA Western Conference championship. Beyond that, no other predictions.
If the Shock win in Phoenix on Thursday they could potentially move on to the Conference Championships with a win at home on Saturday.
The Shock will open the playoffs in Phoenix this Thursday at 9pm local time and will air on ESPN2 (Cox26). Game two of the best of three series with the Phoenix Mercury is scheduled for this Saturday at the BOK Center and it is slated for an 8pm tipoff. Tickets are on sale at the BOK Center box office for that game and it will air on NBA TV.
Photos by Greg Duke, Tulsa Today.