Overcoming the absence of All-Star Glory Johnson and a season-ending injury to Skylar Diggins provided enough obstacles for the Tulsa Shock before they were informed the franchise will relocate following the season.
They’re now focused on putting the first-half drama to bed while snapping a four-game skid when they host the Phoenix Mercury on Thursday night.
Johnson first was suspended for seven games following a domestic incident with Mercury center and then-fiance Brittney Griner before announcing she was pregnant and would sit out the season.
Despite high-scoring guard Odyssey Sims missing a month with a foot injury, Tulsa got off to an 8-1 start behind Diggins, who averaged 17.8 points during that stretch. Diggins, though, suffered a torn ACL in a win over Seattle on June 28, and the Shock (10-8) have lost seven of nine since she went down.
Between home losses to Minnesota on July 19 and Washington on July 21, majority owner Bill Cameron announced his intentions to relocate the Shock to the Dallas-Fort Worth area after the season. WNBA owners unanimously approved the move last Thursday.
This will be the Shock’s first game since the announcement after the league took time off for Saturday’s All-Star Game.
”When a player goes down, it takes three or four games to really settle in, and when other things happen outside of basketball, it takes two or three more games or days to settle in,” coach Fred Williams said last week. ”As a coach, I have to keep them focused.
”It’s been really tough, but we’re trying to keep everybody on the straight and narrow – (making the) playoffs."
The Shock didn’t qualify for the playoffs in their first five seasons in Tulsa, but are two wins shy of matching last year’s squad for the most victories since the franchise relocated from Detroit following the 2009 season.
Riquna Williams has averaged 16.5 points since taking over Diggins’ starting role and Plenette Pierson has scored 12.9 per game while joining Williams on the All-Star team.
Neither played well in the first meeting with the Mercury, though, as Pierson missed all 11 field-goal attempts and Williams finished with seven points while shooting 3 for 13 in an 86-55 road loss July 2.
Griner had 13 points, eight rebounds and seven blocks in that contest for the Mercury (10-7), who snapped a two-game skid with an 89-87 overtime win over Chicago on Tuesday.
DeWanna Bonner led the charge with a season-high 34 points and Griner added 14, eight boards and five blocks. Bonner scored 16 in the third quarter as Phoenix overcame a 19-point deficit, matching the biggest comeback in team history set in 1999 against Washington.
She also made two free throws in the closing seconds of regulation to send it to OT.
"I just wanted to win," Bonner told the team’s official website. "We came out pretty sluggish. I just wanted to be aggressive, try to get things going. That’s what they preach to me so that was what I was trying to do."
The Mercury have won four of the last five meetings with the Shock.