Zellous Leaves Imprint with Huge Game 3
By Tom Rietmann
INDIANAPOLIS -- In the Indiana Fever locker room, Shavonte Zellous is always quick with a joke. Zellous' teammates thoroughly enjoy being around her. She keeps the mood light.
But on Friday night, when Zellous took the floor at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, she was all serious business. Her career-high 30 points dented the Minnesota Lynx defense as Indiana marched to a 76-59 victory in Game 3 of the WNBA Finals. Indiana bolted to a 37-point lead late in the third quarter, setting a new league playoffs record.
The triumph put the Fever one victory away from busting down the door to a coveted WNBA championship. The opportunity to get that win presents itself in Game 4 on Sunday night at the Fieldhouse.
And it will be another opportunity for Zellous, who averaged 7.5 points in the regular season before elevating that mark to 17.7 in the Finals, to display her considerable skills.
“I think the interesting thing about Zellous is that a lot of teams, including Minnesota, choose to sag off one player to help on other players,” Fever Coach Lin Dunn said. “Recently, people have been giving Z the open shot.”
Responding to that, Zellous has done a splendid job of “mixing it up,” Dunn said.
“Sometimes, it's a 3. Sometimes, it's a pull-up jumper. And sometimes, it's going all the way to the rim,” Dunn said about Zellous. “With her knocking down shots like she did (Friday night), you have to respect her. There was a time period during the season where teams were just sagging off of her. I think what she did (Friday night) maybe will open up some driving lanes for other people because they can't sag off of her.”
Zellous, who started 31 games in the regular season, was moved to a reserve role after scoring four points in Indiana's opening-game loss to Atlanta in the Eastern Conference semifinals. The switch proved fortuitous for both the player and the team. She responded with 14 points off the bench in a Game 2 victory over Atlanta and continued to inject energy into the Fever as a reserve in four more postseason games.
Mope about losing a starting job? That's not in Zellous' DNA.
“Z has done a great job of just putting her emotions in check, coming out and being focused with what's going on and not getting caught up in herself. She's really a team player,” said Fever forward Tamika Catchings.
Added Fever guard Briann January: “That is just Shavonte's character. She is an ultimate team player. That's the type of people we have on our team. Everybody is engaged in doing everything they can to help. They understand that any change that's made is for the betterment of our team. Shavonte knew she was always a key part of this team. She stayed ready.”
And when Katie Douglas suffered an ankle injury in the deciding game of the Eastern Conference finals, Dunn wasted no time inserting Zellous back into the starting lineup. Zellous has hit 17-of-35 shots (.486) in three Finals starts against Minnesota.
“That's a credit to her focus and her confidence,” Fever guard Erin Phillips said. “Whatever role she's been given, she does it so well.”
Heading into Game 4, the Lynx and Coach Cheryl Reeve will likely have a new scouting report, a new plan as they try to extend the series.
“They probably didn't expect me to have 30 points,” Zellous said, “but I'm sure somewhere in their report they knew I like to attack the basket and get to the free throw line. I'm sure coach Reeve is going to make an adjustment to a lot of things we did (Friday night).”
Reeve, during Minnesota's media session on Saturday, made it clear her team wants to force the Fever into one more road trip for a deciding Game 5 on Wednesday.
“I think anytime you lay an egg in the WNBA Finals, it doesn't feel very good,” she said about the Game 3 blowout. “At the same time, we understand the nice thing is that the series is not over. We want to put Indiana in a situation for Game 4 -- they have to win the game, they don't want to come back to Minnesota.
“That's one of the first things out of my mouth. We are going to do our best to bring them back to Minnesota.”
POHLEN OUT; DOUGLAS UNCERTAIN
The Fever announced on Saturday that guard Jeanette Pohlen is out for the rest of the Finals with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in her left knee. Pohlen will undergo surgery within the next few weeks and is expected to return for the 2013 season.
“She's been a huge plus for us,” Dunn said about Pohlen, who contributed 14 points off the bench after Douglas was injured in the close-out game at Connecticut. “She's a big guard. She's smart. She can shoot. She has a real bright future ahead of her in the WNBA.”
Douglas' status for Sunday night's game remains unsure. The veteran guard, who hasn't suited up since suffering the ankle injury, was still undergoing treatment Saturday.
“We continue to be optimistic,” Dunn said. “I had hoped she would be far enough along that she could be here for a walk-through. … We'll just see where she is (Sunday).”
TAKING NOTHING FOR GRANTED
Heading into Game 4, Dunn wants her players operating like they trail, not lead, the Lynx in the Finals. Her strategy is simple.
“We have to play the game … as if we lost (in Game 3),” the Fever coach said. “We have to have that same sense of urgency that we had after we lost Game 2. (The Lynx are) going to come in with an enormous amount of intensity. We have to be ready for that. They are not going to go away.
“It's taking care of business,” Dunn added. “The only time to celebrate is when you've won the championship. There is no celebrating until then.”
Dunn and her Indiana team are hoping for another boisterous, sell-out crowd. The 18,165 on hand Friday night -- all decked out in red -- screamed their tonsils out, and there are signs it could happen again. Early Saturday, about 1,500 fans lined up at the Fieldhouse to acquire remaining tickets for Game 4.