Resurgent offense won't be enough for Detroit's first win over Dream

"Shock Basketball" Returns

The Shock have never been hotter this season, winners of three straight for the first time since the 2008 Finals with back-to-back games of 90 or more points. So there's no better time to run into the Atlanta Dream, who are 3-0 against Detroit, right?

Well, yes, but the Shock can’t rely on their offense to bring their first victory over Atlanta Thursday. Fortunately, they shouldn’t have to, as the defense and rebounding have also picked up during the streak. Rick Mahorn’s squad is getting back to what they often refer to “Shock basketball” – and their opponents are taking notice.

“The basic fact of the matter is, they were just better than us from start to finish,” said Connecticut coach Mike Thibault after his team was thrashed on its home court Tuesday night, 90-70, albeit without All-Star forward Asjha Jones. “I thought Detroit resembled the team that won a championship last year. They beat us in just about every phase of the game.”

Putting the ‘O’ in Shock

The Shock’s reversal of fortune can be summed up in two words: Katie Smith. She has virtually willed the defending champions back into the win column. Coming off two losses in which she shot a combined 2-for-13, Smith has put together a three-game stretch that makes her 2008 Finals MVP performance look almost shoddy. She’s averaging 22.3 points on 63.1 percent shooting from the field. That includes an absurd 14-of-21 (66.7 percent) from 3-point range.

“It’s nice to see her with her stroke and her confidence back,” forward Taj McWilliams said. “She’s a shooter and we need her to play well every night to open up the defense for us and she been doing it the last three games. That’s why we’ve won three in a row.”

Other players are also rediscovering their offensive game, especially Alexis Hornbuckle, who has had a rocky sophomore season. Over the last three games Hornbuckle is averaging 11.0 points (nearly double her season average), shooting 48 percent from the field and 60 percent (6-of-10) on 3-pointers. She’s also distributing the ball like never before, with four straight games of four or more assists. She had 14 points and seven assists, both career highs, Sunday against San Antonio.

The Shock are shooting 51.9 percent during the streak, more than nine points above their season average (42.6). The most dramatic improvement has been from behind the arc, where Detroit had made seven 3-pointers in a game just once. Since then, they’ve tripled seven, 10 and eight times while shooting an astonishing 55.6 percent (25-of-45). Detroit’s average on the season is 32.9 percent, only eighth in the league.

The Shock have scored 90 points in consecutive games on one prior occasion this season, but it occurred over 10 days with the All-Star break in between – and the first game was a 98-95 overtime loss to the Dream. That contest could haunt the Shock more than any other this season if they don’t make the playoffs. The Shock had a three-point lead heading into the fourth quarter with a raucous Palace crowd on hand for the annual Camp Day. The Dream scored 25 points in the fourth to force overtime and added 11 more for the win.

Unfortunately for the Shock, the Dream do this routinely. Atlanta has topped 90 nine times and lost only once when doing so, 99-98 to Chicago in June. While the Shock were swarming the Sun Tuesday, the Dream – without leading scorer Chamique Holdsclaw – enjoyed their own 20-point blowout, pouring 103 points on Sacramento.

Digging down and making stops

Kara Braxton and the Shock are looking for their first win against the Dream this season when the teams face off Thursday .
Allen Einstein (NBAE/Getty)
It has never been the Shock’s M.O. to try to outscore their opponent, and Thursday would seem like a poor time to start. That’s fine by them.

The Shock’s efficiency on offense has allowed them to enjoy the benefits of having one of the toughest defenses to shoot against. Detroit’s opposition is shooting 41.0 percent this season, the second-lowest mark behind Los Angeles (40.2). True to form, Detroit’s opponents are shooting 41.1 percent during the streak.

“Most of us have been locking into the game plan and playing defense, digging down and making stops,” Katie Smith said. “… We put up points in a lot of games but also given up a lot of points. We’ve done a good job scoring. Our defense has definitely picked up.”

The Shock offered little resistance at Atlanta in the first meeting in June, when the Dream scored 96 points on 56.1 percent shooting. Detroit has done a better job the last two games, holding Atlanta to 42.3 and 40.7 percent shooting, respectively. It will take a similar defensive effort Thursday, without a drop-off at the offensive end, for the Shock to finally overtake the Dream.

Surprisingly, the area in which Detroit has long held an advantage almost by reputation – rebounding – has been decidedly in Atlanta’s favor this season. Over the past 10 games, Atlanta is the league’s top rebounding squad, collecting nearly 39 rebounds per game (38.8), led by league leader Erika de Souza (9.2 rpg). And in their three prior head-to-head meetings, Atlanta has won the rebounding battle each time, grabbing 11 more rebounds in the series overall.

There are reasons to be encouraged, however. The Shock have had four different leading rebounders during the three-game win streak, illustrating the teamwide devotion to the craft that has been Detroit’s forte since 2003. Cumulatively, the Shock are plus-14 over that stretch. Cheryl Ford (team-high 7.2 rpg) grabbed nine rebounds at Chicago, while Taj McWilliams and Deanna Nolan each pulled in seven against San Antonio. In doing so, Nolan passed Swin Cash to take second on the franchise’s all-time list behind Ford. Hornbuckle (fourth) and Nolan (ninth) rank among the league’s top 10 guards in rebounding.

Tuesday’s leader was a pleasant surprise: newcomer Crystal Kelly, who grabbed a game-high eight boards, three offensive, to go with nine points. Kelly won’t swing anything in Detroit’s favor by herself, but the second-year forward’s performance hints that she can help against Atlanta’s younger and more athletic frontcourt.

Will the Shock be dragged into another shootout at The Palace or force Atlanta to win a game well south of the 90s? Either way, the Shock are prepared to do what it takes. "A win is a win no matter how you get it," McWilliams said. "We have to take them how we can get them."