When you've only got seven wins in a relocated franchise's history, a victory so sweet as that seventh sticks with you. The Tulsa Shock experienced that sweetness of being on the winning side of a lopsided game on Saturday night in front of the home crowd that endured the polar opposite the previous weekend. The jubilant crowd didn't have to gnaw on their fingers to see if Tulsa could finish off the Washington Mystics, a feat that the Shock was close to doing - but couldn't finish - in their previous game at Indiana.
Finishing out a complete game has been a rare occurrence for the Shock in the opening stages of 2011. Against Connecticut, Tulsa trailed by four points with 7:36 to play in the third quarter. And then the Sun went on a 20-6 run that was low-lighted by three Shock turnovers on consecutive possessions. Connecticut went on to win by 11. Against Indiana, the game was tied at 62-62 with 9:06 remaining in the game. And then the Fever finished the Shock off with a 20-12 run to defend home court and secure the 82-74 victory.
But Saturday was different. The Shock did more than finish. They swept the leg Kobra Kai style. Went after the Mystics in the third quarter to get themselves a then season-high seven point lead midway through the period. Ivory Latta drained shot after shot in the former quarter of doom for the Shock to rack up 14 points. Jen Lacy, Sheryl Swoopes, Kayla Pederson didn't let up on the Mystics in the final quarter even after Washington clawed back to make the game a one-possession affair. Rather, the team finished strong with a new largest margin of victory after a 77-59 win at the BOK Center.
"It was all more smart playing, a lot of smart playing," the game's leading scorer Latta said after her 22-point performance. "This year, it's a whole new year, a whole new team, a whole new mindset. So we came out and fought extremely hard."
Pedersen kept up her rookie campaign with a strong night of 12 points, seven rebounds and seven assists for Tulsa. She thought the finish was a key to the game.
"I think we've learned from that experience [in Indiana], and I think we've kind of stepped up a little more today and I think we kind of were focusing on finishing," Pedersen said. "Once we were up we kind of wanted to throw the knockout punch this game."
Lacy candidly talked about how difficult it was to let the game against the Fever slip away. Her scrappy play on the court Saturday didn't allow this game to slip away.
"You know, it doesn't feel good to be in a game the entire game and then kind of I guess fall apart at the end, so we didn't want to relive that feeling," Lacy said. "We didn't want anything reminiscent of Indiana so we just knew we had to step up, stay focused. We just stayed focused, took care of the ball and executed. Played our game and didn't let them change the way we play."
The cagey veteran Swoopes echoed the same sentiments of refusing to let this game find its way into the loss column for the Shock.
"I think everyone was determined that we were not going to let this one slip away from us," Swoopes said. "We continued to be aggressive even when we were up by 10, 12 points and Coach said, 'at this point we're not playing to win or lose. We've got to keep executing and if we keep executing and doing what we've been doing the entire game. We're going to win this.' And I think that was the biggest difference tonight."
Swoopes and Lacy combined for 25 points, nine rebounds, five assist and five steals to help ensure this game stayed firmly in the hands of the home team.
Head coach Nolan Richardson expressed his relief and joy at the complete game the women played.
"It's always satisfaction to win your first ball game," Richardson said. "To come in and win a ballgame at home - this is the second game we've played here - it's really gratifying because the most important thing is for the girls, the ladies, not to feel that the work they've put in doesn't count. Tonight they were able to show how much they've been working and how much better we are as a basketball team. We showed that tonight."
The other thread of the game was the indeed what Richardson touched on - the team. The synergy and teamwork shone through in the final statistics. Tulsa had 20 assists on 28 made baskets, a season high. The Shock set another benchmark draining 60 percent of their attempts from beyond the arc (9-of-15). And another by missing only one free throw at the line to finish 12-of-13 from the stripe (92.3 percent).
The team wasn't just clicking on offense, the defense made themselves known too forcing the Mystics to return the record-book favor by shooting a season-low 33.8 percent from the field to finish with a season-low 59 points, including a - you guessed it - season-low nine points in the fourth quarter.
Team was also on the minds of each woman in the locker room basking in the joyous moments of their fist win as a unit.
"From the beginning of the game to the end of the game every single player brought 40 minutes, however many minutes it was that they played, and everybody wanted this one really bad," Swoopes said. "I just thought as a team, we all played exceptionally well and it really feels like we're starting to find that chemistry and starting to get it, so hopefully this will be a turning point for us."
The chemistry that Swoopes is beginning to feel is something that the Shock struggled to find for a good portion of last season, with roster moves dotting the calendar as Richardson made changes. One of the mid-season changes was bringing in Lacy, and she has formed a tight bond with the women she shares the locker room with this year.
"I think we've got each others' back out there, we're supportive out there, we try to play to each others' strengths, we're just - we do it by committee," Lacy said of the team chemistry. "It's such a great feeling. It's even better because of this group of girls. We've come in, we've worked hard every single day, push each other in practice every single day and we really believe that we are a good team. We believe in our potential, we believe that we can come out here and just change the way the game is played. It's really exciting with this group of girls to win."
But one win does not make a streak, a season or a team. One win is just the starting point for the Shock, who have 28 more regular season games in which to strive yet again to be on the high side of the scoreboard.
"We had what you call a very good ball game from everyone who played tonight," Richardson said in his opening remarks. "You've got to have your first win in order to build on something and that's a big win for us. But I told our players that - don't get too high, never get too low and we'll go to the next ball game. At 12 midnight tonight this will be history. The game's over. You've got to get prepared for another battle. Now we have to start focusing on the next ballgame."
The next ballgame is fast approaching, as the Tulsa home stand continues Tuesday night at 7 p.m., against the Seattle Storm.