An integral part of Tulsa Shock head coach Nolan Richardson's hellish forty minutes is the speed at which he pushes his team to play.
And in their 80-74 home loss to the Minnesota Lynx yesterday to open the 2010 season there were two speeds that were somewhat evident to those who saw the game: The fast five and the not-so-fast five. Those on the not-so-fast list are the starters for the Shock - Plenette Pierson, Alexis Hornbuckle, Scholanda Robinson, Shanna Crossley and Kara Braxton.
The starting lineup of veterans got Tulsa in the early 10-4 deficit before being switched out four minutes into the game. After another rotation from the bench back to the starters, the Lynx lead grew while playing against the Shock starting five. The switch to the fast lineup was made again with the scoreboard reading 30-17 in favor of the visitors and 7:46 remaining in the half.
The fast five consisted of Natasha Lacy, Chante Black, Amber Holt, Shavonte Zellous and a combination of rookies Amanda Thompson and Marion Jones in the fifth spot of this line.
These bench players fast-tracked this 13 point deficit into a tie ballgame heading into the midway point - not exactly a small feat.
Richardson made no bones about the obvious speed advantage some of his newer players are demonstrating on the court.
"[The bench] is a quicker team, that's why we were able to press and trap," RIchardson said. "We've got some quickness in one group and not-as-quick in the other group. The quick group was able to get us back in the game with the pressure they placed on [Minnesota]."
To perhaps show Richardson's cards on his emphasis on quickness and speed, three of the bench players or aforementioned 'quick group' saw more playing time than three of the team veterans. Holt, Lacy and Black all netted over 20 minutes of playing time in the game, surpassing court time seen by Pierson, Hornbuckle and Braxton.
Aside from just gaining minutes, the quicks gained points too. Holt had a quiet and easy 16 points, Lacy chipped in 12 and Black had eight points and 10 rebounds. Holt and Lacy also got to the line nine times apiece, equating for 18 of the Shock's 30 free throw attempts.
"When you start on the bench, you kind of get a feel for the game. You can see things that you might not be able to see while you're on the court," Lacy said after the game. "We just try to come in there and if they don't have the tempo, kind of pick it up so they can come back in there and get it."
The second half started out with a fizzle and any momentum that Tulsa seemed to gain at the end of the first was dampened in a hurry, leading to Minnesota's 80-74 victory. Although the fast bench could not overcome or outlast a talented Minnesota team, Richardson feels that with the proper lineup and mix of quick and not, Tulsa will indeed prevail.
"We're going to get better and we're going to win some basketball games," remarked Richardson. "We're going to be there in the end."
And the young corp of reserves is going to continue to lead however their team needs them - with Lacy blossoming and emerging as one of those bench leaders.
"Before we came in, we all talked and we were just like, yo we need to pick it up," Lacy said. "This is not us and the fans came here to see a great show. Let's play us and let's do us."
And "us" - as no one will let anyone forget is forty minutes of hell all wrapped up into forty minutes of fast. No guarantees on what you'll see when you watch the Shock but don't blink, you just might miss something good.