AUBURN HILLS, Mich.(AP) For 17 minutes, the Indiana Fever looked like the best team in the Eastern Conference.
After that, they regressed back to the group that has been eliminated by the Detroit Shock in each of the last three postseasons.
After leading for the entire first half, the Fever only scored 19 second-half points as Detroit rolled to an easy 72-56 victory Wednesday night in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals.
"I thought Detroit played like a team that wanted to win the game more than we did,'' Indiana coach Lin Dunn said. "We didn't match their energy or their intensity in the second half, and that's very disappointing.''
Detroit, which has won 12 of its last 14 games after a 9-14 start, is looking for a fourth straight trip to the WNBA finals despite losing Plenette Pierson (shoulder) and Katie Smith (back).
"I thought that early in the game, we looked like a team that hadn't played since Friday,'' Detroit coach Rick Mahorn said. "We started to click in the second quarter, especially on defense.''
The Fever led 35-24 with three minutes left in the second quarter, but Detroit went on a 11-2 run to make it a two-point game at halftime.
"I thought we really missed a big opportunity there,'' said Katie Douglas, who led Indiana with 16 points. "We started off really well, and we had them on their heels, but we let them get some confidence.''
Rookie Shavonte Zellous scored 16 of her game-high 23 points in the first half, including 12 in the second quarter.
"Without Katie, I know that I have to step up my offense, because I'm our second offensive option now,'' Zellous said. "Tonight, I really felt the flow of the game as soon as I came in. I felt like that run at the end of the second quarter really gave us a great boost.''
The Shock kept the momentum after the break, scoring the first six points of the third quarter. They held Indiana to six third-quarter points to take a 52-43 lead into the fourth. The Fever missed 13 of 16 shots in the period and turned the ball over six times.
"I don't think we're worried about the times we've lost to Detroit in the past - I just think that's a great basketball team,'' Dunn said. "They were the world champions a year ago, and they are tough to beat at home. We've just got to do a better job Friday at our place.''
The Fever cut the margin to four, but Deanna Nolan scored the next six points and Zellous added a three-point play to put Detroit ahead 63-50 with 5:09 to play. Nolan, who received a trophy before the game for her All-WNBA second-team berth, finished with 22 points.
"We rely a lot on the play of our guards, and they came through for us again tonight,'' Mahorn said after his team won its eighth straight playoff game. "Nolan has been superb in the last few weeks, and Zellous has been lights out in the playoffs. There were some big possessions down the stretch, and those two hit the shots that we needed.''
Game 2 is on Friday in Indiana. A year ago, the Fever won the second game of the first-round series between the teams, only to fall behind 41-10 at the start of a lopsided Game 3 loss.
"We know exactly what we've got to do now,'' Douglas said. "We've got two games at our building, and we're going to have to play two great games to win this series.''