When Tulsa took to the court to warm up, there was already an electricity in the air. When they went up to the concourse to greet the fans arriving, when they laughed and joked with each other during stretches, when they presented the ownership group with thank-you jerseys, when they got together for one last huddle before the tip-off a charge was in the air.
That electric atmosphere had everyone in the BOK Center knowing they were in for a treat on Fan Appreciation night as the Shock took on the Chicago Sky - season records aside. And the 6,321 fans were appreciated and rewarded handsomely for their loyalty through the losses - with an 84-71 victory to cap off the season.
The Tulsa starting lineup changed yet again, this time with rookie Marion Jones earning her first ever WNBA start. She took advantage of her 23 minutes on the court, hitting season/career highs in just about every statistical category. 14 points, on 6-of-8 shooting and six rebounds.
"I see it as coach having confidence that he can put me out there, that I'm going to bring the energy so it felt good," Jones said of her first time in the starting lineup. "I'm not going to lie, it felt good to finally get my first start in the league and then to have it concluded with a win, it's a good feeling."
Tiffany Jackson quietly streaked to her own season high of 17 points on 7-of-10 shooting, chipping in a game-high nine rebounds.
Jackson and Jones were not alone in the scoring front, with Shanna Crossley getting 17 of her own and Ivory Latta rounding out the double-digit performers with 14 points and five assists.
For head coach Nolan Richardson, the third quarter was one of the defining stretches in the contest.
"In the third quarter we are always awful, we turn it over the most, we don't score in that quarter," said Richardson. "When we got into the game and we were maybe a point ahead at the end of the third quarter I felt really if we could just get our defense to kick in a little bit better going down the stretch it would really help.
"You've got to make some shots. We don't have what you'd call a really good shooting team but tonight, when you saw us push for the ball and getting into the spots and sharing, it gave us a chance to make some shots."
Making shots didn't seem to be nearly the usual problem, with Tulsa shooting 50.7 percent for the game.
With Crossley contributing her signature threes, Jones streaking for fastbreaks and layups and Jackson hitting jumpers with ease, it was Latta who gave Tulsa their game-clenching lead, breaking a 64-64 tie with a triple, with just over six minutes remaining on the clock. The Shock never looked back once they grabbed that lead, igniting a 20-7 run to end the game.
"Coach Richardson, he talked to me and said I've got great confidence in you, he put me back in the game and I got the job done," said Latta of her clutch play. "It feels good to have a coach that has that much confidence in you for you to go back out there and get the job done and that's what I did."
For Chicago, Sylvia Fowles led the scoring charge with 16 points, a far cry from the season- and career-high 32 points garnered on June 5th. Fowles, who's averaged a double-double this year, was held to just seven boards and committed a season-high six turnovers in the game.
"[Fowles] dominated us, yeah," Crossley said of their first meeting.
But in the second, Tulsa managed to contain Big Syl, holding her below her season averages and beating the Sky handily in the paint, 46 to 28 points and holding their own in the transition game, too.
"Back-to-back is a big thing, but I think we also kind of sucked in a little bit more," Crossley said of Fowles' struggles. "We were able to double down a little bit, try to make her be more of a passer than a finisher and we got back in transition a lot better the second half."
This marks perhaps the most complete game the Shock put together this season, with Tulsa winning all but the second quarter, and eight of the nine players who dressed getting on the scoreboard.
For Richardson, this was the perfect ending to a not-so-perfect season.
"Well, this is one of the greater wins - even though we beat the number one team," Richardson said. "The greatness is because it's the end of the season and it shows one thing, that the young ladies never quit. They could have quit, folded up the tent a long time ago, but they never have and that's a trademark I hope of the teams I've coached; we never quit.
"And there's no quitting in me either, so that's the proud part of it. Winning the last ballgame, setting a tone that brings in next year a little different than the tone if you were to lose the ballgame going out."
The tone is one of hope, of optimism, of a culture of winning being cultivated in the newest WNBA city - Tulsa, Oklahoma.
A look ahead
If you are one of the doubters of the system Richardson is trying to implement, don't expect any changes in the coach's seat
"I'm in this for the long haul and I'm going to overhaul this basketball team and we're gonna play some exciting basketball for my fans and Tulsa to enjoy and be happy about," said Richardson. "There might be some doubts in everyone else's mind, but in my mind no. I'm in a three-year contract, yes, and I refuse to leave a team that I know that I can mold and build the kind of team I want. I can see it coming."
And if you are still inexplicably one of the doubters of Jones, don't count Richardson in your corner
"I'm happy with the progress I've seen in the last month, of how far we've come. I think when I see Marion Jones, who when she first walked in here nobody thought she'd even be able to play, that can play well enough to start in her last ballgame," Richardson said of the rookie. "Now that means that the improvement that we've gotten from that position is tremendous. She brings energy - something I can teach. I can't teach quickness, desire - you can't teach that. Some people are born with it. Marion Jones is one of those kinds."
If you expect this team to look the same next year, don't hold your breath
"I think you've got the draft coming up, we'll hopefully get ... the number one pick in the lottery," Richardson remarks of the Maya Moore sweepstakes. "We've also got the seventh pick or eighth pick out of Phoenix, so we've got some draft choices that we can deal. We've also got free agents coming out and restricted free agents coming out. There's some people wanting to go to a place where there's going to be some playing time for them. There's so many things that can happen.
"My biggest hope right now is to get the number one pick, when you get that you've got a part of your worries gone. My next hope is maybe Deanna Nolan will come back and play with us or maybe we'll be able to use her as also being able to pick up some first round draft choice."
The look toward the future is not just happening through the eyes of the coaches;
Jones is looking towards a taste of the post-season
"We've been waiting for this one and we absolutely knew that the past few games, we didn't win but we kind of felt it coming together," said Jones. "I mean, everyone wants to win their last one and the fact that we finally gave all these fans a chance to celebrate with us with the last one; things really couldn't get better than that except that if we would have won and then we were going to the playoffs but it'll come."
Latta is looking ahead, too
"It's not about winning or losing, but to come here and get a win in front of this great crowd, it's a great feeling and they always make us feel good the way they come out there and cheer and stay there for us at the end of the game, so I feel good," said Latta. "It's great to end on a win, but it's sad that we can't keep going on with the season. We've got a lot to look forward to next year and continue to get better. We tried to end on a bang and that's what we did. We're going to carry this game into the next season."
And Crossley sees a bright future in Tulsa
"There's a huge upside to Tulsa that a lot of people don't understand or know about I think," Crossley says of the team's potential. "As you can see, with a six win season we had a very good crowd, we have great fan support, we have great ownership, great organization and I think with the more experience they get I think that it's going to be almost a gold mine here. I definitely want to, I definitely want to come back. There's going to be some changes made probably and we'll see where the chips fall, but I've enjoyed my time here in Tulsa."