Shock Beat Liberty, Near Playoff Berth
Nolan tied her season high with 34 points - including the first six of overtime on two 3-pointers - as the Shock inched closer to a postseason berth with a 94-87 win over the New York Liberty Thursday at The Palace.
Nolan missed her first shot and then connected on her next five over the course of five minutes as the Shock built a 19-5 lead. She had more field goals than the Liberty, which shot 4-of-11 in the first quarter. Detroit led, 30-16.
“I couldn’t hit any side of the ocean last night in Minnesota,” said Nolan, who made 11 of 17 shots Thursday, including a season-high six 3-pointers. “Tonight was about getting off to a good start within myself and they were going in.”
Behind Nolan’s early barrage, the Shock built a 19-point lead in the second quarter. They still led by 14 after the third. Then New York - the only team in the Eastern Conference eliminated from postseason contention - swiftly made a game of it.
Essence Carson scored 13 of New York’s 33 points in the fourth to take a 71-69 lead with 4:42 left. The Liberty’s 76.5 percent shooting in the quarter did not please Shock head coach Rick Mahorn.
“It’s one of those wins you’ll say you’ll take it, but we just got to get focused,” he said. “We got to get focused for a playoff run. We got to compete. We can’t go to anybody’s level; we got to go out there and set the tone and play basketball.”
After New York took the lead, the Shock received a huge boost from Kara Braxton, who spurred a 10-0 run. She scored the next five points on a three-point play and two free throws, giving Detroit another three-point lead. Braxton scored seven of her 11 points in the fourth.
“They’ve really been on me about rebounding and stuff so I try to make it my personal vendetta to go out there and snag as many as I can,” said Braxton, who had eight rebounds, tied with Taj McWilliams for the team high. “We really needed it at that time.”
New York overcame the 79-71 deficit with two 3-pointers, and then Carson - who scored a career-high 28 points - tied the game at 84 by tripling with 6.0 seconds left in regulation.
“We know they’re a team like that and they can always come back at any time, so we always got to be ready and mentally prepared for whatever they bring us,” Braxton said. “We stuck it out. We just had to go another quarter to do it.”
In overtime, Nolan’s two triples - one at 3:40 and another with just under three minutes remaining - reasserted Detroit’s command. Shavonte Zellous added four points in the overtime as Detroit outscored New York, 10-3. Zellous had 11 points, seven rebounds, five assists and two blocks in one of her most complete performances of the year. Zellous had a streak of 13 consecutive games with 10 or more points end at Minnesota.
“We needed energy, especially when you’re playing back-to-back, you need those players that didn’t play a lot of minutes the night before and come in and set the tone,” Mahorn said of his bench.
The Shock are now 17-16 heading into the regular-season finale at Chicago Saturday. The Sky are currently 16-17 and hold the fourth spot in the Eastern Conference standings.
“I don’t care about Chicago,” he said. “Right now I just look at our team and we’ll assess [the postseason] after this but right now I’m worried about us.”
And maybe he should be. For the second night in a row, the Shock led with less than two minutes left in the fourth quarter. For the second night in a row, the Shock let that lead slip away. Katie Smith’s absence in the clutch is growing more apparent by the day, as the team's second leading scorer missed her sixth straight game.
“It’s always disheartening because you sit back and as a coach, and at one point you can’t say nothing,” Mahorn said. “You’ve got to let the players decide if they want to play and get it done, and fortunately, they got it done, especially in the overtime.”