Zellous outshines fellow rookie McCoughtry in series clincher

Requiem for the Dream

In her first season with the Detroit Shock, Shavonte Zellous has learned an important lesson her veteran teammates know well: it’s nice to win awards during the postseason, but it’s better to just win.

Hours after finishing third in the voting for WNBA Sixth Woman of the Year, Zellous scored 10 of her 21 points in the fourth quarter as the Shock cruised to a 94-79 victory over the Atlanta Dream. Detroit wins the series, 2-0, and advances to its fourth consecutive Eastern Conference finals.

“I’m kind of excited,” Zellous said of advancing in her first WNBA postseason. “In the preseason, they asked one thing that I could bring to the Detroit Shock, and I said I can bring hard work and [get us] to that championship game. I think I’m doing that and I’m just following the lead of [Deanna] Nolan and [Katie] Smith and all the veterans on the team.”

The Shock got a huge boost when Nolan decided she could play. Showing no ill effects from the concussion she suffered at the end of Game 1, she scored 16 of her game-high 22 points in the first half. Nolan had one scare late in the third quarter when she leaned over for a loose ball and was inadvertently hit in the neck, but it didn’t faze her, or the Shock.

The Shock were leading 57-50 when a Dream player’s hip bumped Nolan behind her head. Atlanta then scored eight unanswered to take a 58-57 lead. But Detroit regrouped, and Zellous hit a 3-pointer to end the quarter and give the Shock a 66-61 edge.

That’s when the rookie from Pittsburgh essentially took over. She pushed the lead to double figures with two free throws, 74-63, and then added some defense for good measure, twice stripping Dream forward Angel McCoughtry, who finished second in Sixth Woman voting and is the front-runner to win Rookie of the Year over Zellous.

“Playing in the Big East against her, it was always a war,” said Zellous, who regularly faced McCoughtry’s Louisville Cardinals. “We were the two top players for our teams so we were always going at each other. So now it’s the same with me in Detroit and her in Atlanta. It’s just a very competitive game and we always tell each other good game after and talk about how we can improve on things. It’s just a competitive spirit. We love each other but we are always ready to battle on the court.”

On one sequence the 5-foot-10 Zellous elevated to block the 6-foot-1 McCoughtry’s shot cleanly, coming down with the ball and streaking down the court for a layup that made it a 14-point game.

Dream coach Marynell Meadors called a timeout, but her team never recovered, trailing by double digits the rest of the way. The second-year franchise’s playoff inexperience showed, as the Dream faltered badly in the fourth quarter of both games as Detroit pulled away. The Shock also exploited Atlanta’s season-long defensive deficiencies, scoring 94 points in each game.

Though Zellous stole the show in the fourth, it was an incredible ensemble effort. Kara Braxton scored just four points, but had an immeasurable impact on the game from the very beginning. In 21 minutes she had eight rebounds, a career-high five assists and three blocked shots. Alexis Hornbuckle, whose regular-season high was 14 points, scored 15 points in both games 1 and 2. Friday night she shot 7-for-10 with eight rebounds and four assists. With Braxton and Hornbuckle tying for the team high, the Shock dominated Atlanta on the boards, 38-27. The Dream were the league's No. 1 rebounding team during the regular season.

“It was just a hard fought game,” Shock coach Rick Mahorn said. “At the beginning, we turned the ball over. We made adjustments in the second half and I thought our players got focused. We cut down on turnovers, started attacking and started rebounding.”

After committing just 11 turnovers in Game 1, the Shock turned it over 18 times in the first half Friday, allowing Atlanta to take a 46-45 halftime lead on Ivory Latta’s 3-pointer in the final moments of the second quarter. Latta, who did not hit a field goal despite playing 38 minutes in Game 1, scored a team-high 21 points in Game 2.

“The first game, we let that go,” said Latta, drafted in 2007 by the Shock with the No. 11 pick – the same spot where they would select Zellous two years later. “It was right there in our hands and there were a lot of missed opportunities. This game we fought hard. You can’t take anything away from Detroit. They have a great team and a great coaching staff. We fought hard. It’s just very disappointing how our season ended.”

Detroit’s first-half turnovers (they only had four after halftime) also allowed the Dream to keep the game close despite losing McCoughtry early in the second quarter with foul trouble. McCoughtry scored 10 of her 17 points in the first quarter. In Game 1, she scored 11 of her 21 points in the first. The 2009 No. 1 overall pick made plenty of rookie mistakes, however. Dating back to the last regular-season meeting, McCoughtry made three starts against the Shock and committed six turnovers each time. She didn’t have more than five turnovers against any other opponent.

If the No. 1 seed Indiana prevails over Washington, the Shock would host Game 1 against the Fever on Wednesday at The Palace.