Nolan scores 24, career-high 14 rebounds

Nolan Knocks Out N.Y.

The WNBA’s fans and coaches decided Deanna Nolan wasn’t an All-Star in the first half of 2009. Too bad they can’t vote again.

Nolan scored 26 points - her third straight game of 20 or more- and grabbed a career-high 14 rebounds to lead the Shock to a 76-64 victory over the Liberty at The Palace Tuesday.

“That is a great game for her,” said Shock coach Rick Mahorn. “Not only Deanna, but it was a total team effort. We obtained some goals that we set in the second half of the season and we went out there and executed our game plan.”

Nolan said the team made a concerted effort to hit the boards after allowing a season-high 14 offensive rebounds by Connecticut in Sunday’s disappointing home loss. After New York grabbed three offensive rebounds in the first quarter, they had just three more the rest of the game. Detroit outrebounded New York, 40-24.

“It was a little absent in Sunday’s game, our rebounding, getting the long rebounds, so we had to make it a point to get in there and dig out those rebounds,” said Nolan, who previously had grabbed 10 rebounds on five occasions.

“Hey, I ain’t mad at her. Get it, girl,” said three-time WNBA rebounding champion Cheryl Ford of Nolan’s board work. “It’s very easy for me - I can breathe.”

In the three games since the All-Star Game, Nolan has averaged 22.7 points, 8.7 rebounds and 4.7 assists. She’s shooting 54.8 percent from the field, including 5-of-9 on 3-pointers. Injuries to begin the season put Nolan in one of the worst slumps of her career.

“Oh yeah, I’m getting close to 100 percent again. My knee’s feeling better, shoulder’s feeling good, the whole right side is feeling good,” she said. “So I’m getting back to 100 percent.”

The Liberty, which has put Detroit through a physical three-game series the last two postseasons, didn't shy away from roughing up Nolan when the opportunity arose. “Yeah, they did a little bit,” Nolan said, grinning. “I was already pre-warned by my coaches and teammates to be strong. You know they’re going to beat you up tonight - again.”

No. 2 on Tuesday

by Ryan Pretzer

Tuesday’s victory was the Shock’s second against an Eastern Conference opponent – no small feat for the 7-10 Shock, who still have the worst in-conference record in the WNBA at 2-8.

Conference record is the second postseason tiebreaker after head-to-head. Every other team in the East already has at least five conference wins, but Detroit can catch up quickly. Tuesday was the second of seven straight games against the East. They visit Washington Friday.

“We know we have an opportunity, but we have to win our conference games because if we tie with anybody in our conference, we’re not going to make the playoffs,” said coach Rick Mahorn. “We’ve got to go out there and win conference games.”

Cheryl Ford echoed that sentiment, saying the team had to avoid the inconsistency of the previous two games. They soundly defeated Minnesota Friday, and then came out flat against Connecticut two nights later for their eighth in-conference loss.

“Now we’ve got to continue it, we can’t go one game win, one game lose,” Ford said. “We got to keep pushing forward and win games.”

This game may have meant even more to the Liberty, the Shock’s opponent in last year’s conference finals. It was their fifth consecutive loss, the last two coming under 2008 U.S. Olympic coach Anne Donovan, who has replaced the fired Pat Coyle.

At 6-13, New York has three more losses than any other team in the East, putting their playoff hopes in serious jeopardy.

Twice in the fourth quarter Nolan scored after New York cut the Shock lead to four points. The second time she made a three-point play after being fouled by Shameka Christon on a lay-up. Nolan’s free throw pushed the lead back to 64-57. New York never came closer than five again, as Nolan added a put-back of her own miss to make it 70-61 with 2:10 left.

“It was about defense,” said Ford, who had five rebounds and four points in 26 minutes. “We absolutely looked terrible on [Sunday]. It was a bad defensive effort. We knew that and that was our biggest focus.”

The Shock were torched in New York July 2, when the Liberty made 12 triples on 25 attempts. Tuesday, New York was 4-of-22 from 3-point range. Christon (team-high 14 points) and Catherine Kraayeveld (eight points) hit two each.

“We know they have good 3-point shooters in Christon and Kraayeveld. We know if they’re open, they’re going to get a good look,” Mahorn said. “It wasn’t falling tonight, we were contesting it and we had good defensive rotations.”

The Shock made their first five shots, including two jumpers apiece by Katie Smith and Nolan, but the Liberty scored 10 unanswered points, including a four-point play by Christon, to take an 18-10 lead. The game got more physical in the second quarter as the teams combined to shoot just 30 percent (9-of-30) from the field. The Shock held New York without a point for six and a half minutes to take a 32-31 halftime lead.

“It was a good focus, New York came out making some shots and we hung in there and we turned our defense up in that second period,” Mahorn said.

It was still a one-point game in the third when Shock went on a 7-0 run. Nolan made two free throws, Smith tripled and Taj McWilliams scored on the break to give Detroit a 44-36 cushion. Smith, who finished with 16 points, tripled again moments later to give Detroit its first nine-point lead. The Shock led to start the fourth quarter, 59-50.

AfterShocks: Before the game, the Shock let the seven-day contract with guard Anna DeForge expire, allowing the team to re-sign center Barbara Farris. Alexis Hornbuckle, who started four games earlier in the season, replaced DeForge in the lineup. Hornbuckle scored seven points and grabbed one rebound in 35 minutes… Tuesday’s game was broadcasted on ESPN2. The Shock have one more game on ESPN2, Aug. 29 at San Antonio.