(AP) – Name it, and the Tulsa Shock probably dealt with it this season.
Somehow, they still made the playoffs.
Tulsa has fought through the drama surrounding Glory Johnson’s domestic violence incident with Phoenix Mercury star Brittney Griner, a pregnancy that cost Johnson the entire season, a season-ending injury to star guard Skylar Diggins and an announcement that the team would be moving to the Dallas area next season.
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The third-seeded Shock (18-16) open the Western Conference semifinals against the defending WNBA champion Mercury (20-14) on the road Thursday night.
”We’ve dealt with a lot of adversity, but it’s all about how you handle it, and we’ve handled it very well and we’re not letting anything stop us,” said guard Odyssey Sims, who missed more than a month after suffering a left knee injury June 9. ”The players we have that were healthy, we played them, no matter the battle. They had our backs, and now, we’re going to the playoffs.”
The team remained focused on its training camp goal of making the playoffs, regardless of what was going on. The Shock responded with their first winning season and first postseason berth since moving to Tulsa from Detroit before the 2010 season.
It didn’t appear that would be the case around midseason. The moving announcement came in the midst of a 10-game losing skid, but the Shock followed that with six straight victories.
”Sometimes when you have a (losing) streak like that, it builds character, and I thought it built a lot of character in this group,” coach Fred Williams said. ”I’m proud of them, and I’m proud of the fact that the team has played hard for the city of Tulsa.”
Several factors helped the team overcome the challenges.
Sims averaged 16 points and continued her development into one of the league’s top players. Riquna Williams began the season as a reserve behind Diggins and by midseason was an All-Star. She finished sixth in the league in scoring at 15.6 points per game.
The Shock played their final regular-season game in Tulsa on Sunday and snapped the Mercury’s three-game winning streak with a 91-87 victory. They’ll play at least one more at the BOK Center and hope to return Saturday with a chance to advance in the best-of-three series.
”There’s a lot of things that didn’t go in our favor over the course of the season, but I thought the team really responded well, really bared down and rolled their sleeves up and went out and played hard,” Fred Williams said.
Phoenix dealt with adversity of its own. Star guard Diana Taurasi decided to sit out the season to rest, and the Mercury got off to a 3-5 start with Griner missing the first seven after being suspended for the incident with Johnson.
They battled back to finish two games behind first-place Minnesota and are focused on defending their title. Phoenix went 3-2 against the Shock this season, including a home victory Aug. 4 when DeWanna Bonner hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer in overtime.
"They play tough," forward Candice Dupree told the team’s official website. "Their guards are quick, they shoot the ball well and are a really good rebounding team – especially on the offensive end.
"We’re not taking them lightly at all. They’re a good team."