Gone to the Dawgs
Kara Braxton had a career-high 26 points, Deanna Nolan had 18 points and a career-high 11 assists and Tasha Humphrey added 14 points.
The Shock (12-5) remained undefeated at home (7-0) despite playing without three key players - Elaine Powell, Plenette Pierson and Cheryl Ford - and having to fly home Saturday night after losing in Chicago by 17.
“I think the travel had something to do with it,” Humphrey said. “I think during the third quarter we knew we had to buckle down or we were going to lose this basketball game because they were hitting a lot of shots. I think we locked in and got the job done.”
Tied at 60 with the WNBA’s last winless team, the former UGA stars scored 32 of the Shock’s final 40 points. It started with seven points from Braxton and basket apiece from Nolan and Humphrey during a 13-3 run that gave the Shock their first double-digit lead, 73-63.
“We’ve been traveling and our schedule has been so hectic and so hard, so it took us a while to get into it,” Braxton said. “But once we got in the flow of things we started to put the pieces of the puzzle together.”
With both Ford and Pierson resting achy knees, Detroit needed a big night from Braxton, who shot 11-for-18 from the floor. Even without their two leading post scorers, the Shock outscored Atlanta in the paint by a whopping margin, 40-18.
“We knew we were down some players, down Plenette, down Cheryl,” Braxton said. “Really coming off the back-to-back game and everybody being tired, we just knew what we had to do and tried to focus in on it today.”
The Dream compensated for their lack of post play by shooting 14-of-28 from 3-point range. Three consecutive triples, two by Tamera Young and one from Ivory Latta, cut Detroit’s 11-point lead to 88-85 with 5:24 to play. Then each Bulldog delivered another big play or two down the stretch.
Braxton responded with a layup to make it 90-85, then pulled down the ensuing defensive rebound. Humphrey scored next, making it 92-85. When Atlanta came within four points in the final minute, Nolan drained a 12-footer, then stole the ball and threw downcourt to Braxton for a breakaway layup. It was the exclamation point on a win that nearly got away.
Shock head coach Bill Laimbeer said his team was “unsure how to play” in the first half, partly from the unfamiliar rotation he had to employ in order to rest Ford and Pierson. Yinka Sanni rejoined the starting lineup and Shay Murphy made her first start since joining the team last week. The Dream hit four 3-pointers in the first quarter, building a seven-point lead, 24-17.
With Katie Smith scoring 14 of her 24 points in the first half, the Shock managed to pull even at halftime, 51-51. It was the most points the Shock had allowed before halftime this season, one night after surrendering 44 first-half points to Chicago.
“The first half was just get through it, make sure you have a chance to win the basketball game,” Laimbeer said. “Stay out of foul trouble as much as possible and just get to the second half and try to win it in the second half.”
Rookie Tamera Young, whom the Dream selected over hometown favorite Humphrey in April’s draft, delivered a performance Atlanta fans will wish they had seen. She knocked down two jumpers to open a 4-0 Dream lead en route to a career-high 26 points.
Young’s breakthrough performance was little consolation for the Dream, which lost its WNBA-record 15th straight game to open the season. For the Shock, becoming Atlanta’s first victim was not so much a concern as protecting its home court.
“It was pressure to win our home games,” Laimbeer said. “Even though we only had eight players and we were shorthanded on a back-to-back, we want to win every home game we play and tonight was a good test for us.”
The Shock will face San Antonio Tuesday before getting a week off, returning to the floor July 8 against Connecticut.