Tulsa Shock overcome obstacles to make WNBA playoffs

TULSA, Okla. (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. The Shock open the Western Conference semifinals in Phoenix on 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,'' guard Odyssey Sims said. ''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 playoff berth since moving to Tulsa from Detroit before the 2010 season.

''We stayed committed,'' guard Riquna Williams said. ''We all knew that not many on this team had been to the playoffs. So we wanted to know how it felt.''

Things fell apart around mid-season. 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,'' Shock 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 per game and continued her development into one of the league's top players.

''I think she's done a great job recognizing schemes of defenses that's coming at her,'' Williams said. ''She's been really selective in her shot selection on the floor. Still a great defensive force on the floor, one of the best defensive guards in the league.''

Riquna Williams began the season as a reserve and by mid-season, she was an All Star. She finished sixth in the league with 15.6 points this season.

''It's just love for the game,'' she said. ''I just go out and play every night. Coach Fred got me comfortable starting or coming off the bench. At the end of the day, I'm a ballplayer, so it shouldn't matter.''

Plenette Pierson joined the team this season to bring the leadership that helped her win two WNBA titles with the Detroit Shock. She filled Johnson's spot in the lineup and became an All-Star for the first time in her 13-year career. She averaged 12.8 points and 4.1 rebounds this season.

Karima Christmas, who won a WNBA title with the Indiana Fever in 2012, has been steady. She started all 32 games she played and averaged 10.6 points per contest.

Courtney Paris led the league with 9.3 rebounds per game.

Brianna Kiesel, a rookie from Pittsburgh, stepped in and helped when the guards went down. She averaged 5.1 points and 1.9 assists per game this season, including a career-high 28 points in the regular-season finale against Phoenix. She has started 15 of the Shock's 34 games.

''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.

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Follow Cliff Brunt on Twitter: www.twitter.com/CliffBruntAP

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