Liberty lose to Shock but still get playoff berth
TULSA, Okla. -- Temeka Johnson put on a show in what could possibly be her last home game with the Tulsa Shock.
Johnson scored 26 points on 10-for-12 shooting from the field to lead the Shock to a 78-66 victory over the New York Liberty on Thursday night, for their third straight win and the franchise's longest in three seasons in Tulsa.
With just two road games remaining and Johnson a free agent after the season, nothing seems certain for 2013. Asked if she wanted to return, Johnson said, "Of course." After thinking about it, she added: "I won't rule it out. It's been a very difficult season, something I've never experienced. We've lived the highs and lows but you always want to make a difference in terms of turning things around. There's an upside (to this organization) and I may just be around to see it." Ivory Latta had 13 points and Amber Holt added 10 as the Shock (9-23) matched their victory total from the first two years since moving from Detroit before the 2010 season -- a combined 9-59.
"Tonight was really a collective effort," Johnson said. "Everyone came out with a lot of energy. We wanted to do this for the fans. When you are on the outside all you see is the record. You don't feel the energy of the fans. When I talked to coach (Gary Kloppenburg) during the offseason he made me want to come Tulsa. You don't want to be anywhere where you aren't wanted and the Shock wanted me. That was a plus." Tulsa hit shot 14 for 30 (47 percent) on 3-pointers, led by Johnson's 4 for 5, Jennifer Lacy's 3 for 4, and Latta's 3 for 7.
Kara Braxton, Plenette Pierson and Cappie Pondexter scored 14 points apiece to lead the Liberty (14-19), and Essence Carson added 11 points. New York clinched the Eastern Conference's fourth and final playoff berth minutes later when Chicago lost to Atlanta, 75-66.
The Liberty close the regular season at home against Tulsa on Saturday.
"We need to go into the playoffs feeling good," Pondexter said. "It's our last regular season home game so we need to give our fans something as we head in to the playoffs." New York opens the first round of the playoffs at first-place Connecticut next Thursday.
"We have just got to focus on our stuff," Braxton said of the postseason matchup. "We need to click on all cylinders, rebound the ball, we've got to put in easy chippers, box out and contain pressure -- which is a lot of stuff but we are going to work on it the next couple of days before we go up to Connecticut." Tulsa made four 3-pointers early to grab a 22-14 advantage. The Shock used a 12-2 run over the final three minutes of the second quarter to take a 45-30 lead at halftime. Riquna Williams made a 3-pointer from the top of the key with 4.2 seconds to play in the half.
"Riquna hit a couple of big 3s for us," Kloppenburg said. "We have gotten really great guard play particularly in the second half of the season. We really got our running game going. ... Temeka played outstanding tonight, so did Amber and Ivory.
Temeka is probably the reason we've been winning of late." The Shock finish the season on the road, with the game at New York followed by the finale at Indiana on Sunday.
Kloppenburg acknowledged the team has a few free agents but added it was a priority to re-sign Johnson.
"For sure, we'd love to get Temeka back," Kloppenburg said. "No question about that. We want to keep this team intact and add those two bigs (Tiffany Jones and Liz Cambage) back into the scheme. Ideally, that's what we want to do."