Atlanta coach: "I think we're better"

No Sweep, Dream

The Atlanta Dream didn’t have Chamique Holdsclaw Thursday night at The Palace, and it showed in the fourth quarter.

The Shock did have Deanna Nolan, and she showed plenty, scoring 10 of her 29 points in the final fourth to key Detroit’s 87-83 victory.

It was Detroit’s fourth straight win and first over Atlanta in four tries this season. The Shock are now fourth in the Eastern Conference, their highest standing all season.

Nolan’s bank shot from 13 feet broke a 79-79 tie with 53.6 seconds left. After a driving layup from Shavonte Zellous, Nolan added two free throws with 20.3 seconds to give the Shock a four-point lead. Nolan was 4-of-7 from the field in the fourth.

“It’s good to see Nolan run hard, get those shots, take control of the game,” head coach Rick Mahorn said. “It was fun to watch, like always.”

While Nolan was clearly Detroit’s go-to player, the Dream were just as visibly rattled by the absence of their veteran floor leader, Holdsclaw, who underwent arthroscopic surgery on her right knee Tuesday. Her 3-pointer in overtime July 22 at The Palace was the biggest basket in Atlanta’s 98-95 victory.

Playoff Picture

There are too many games left to figure out the entire Eastern Conference playoff picture and where the Shock might fit into it. However, here’s what to look for the rest of the week that will impact Detroit’s hold on a playoff berth.

Thursday’s win moves the Shock to 13-14. Since Washington and Chicago each have one more loss (13-15), the Shock bypass them, momentarily, and take fourth place in the standings behind Indiana, Atlanta and Connecticut.

The Sun, 14-13 heading into Thursday’s 10 p.m. tip at Seattle, will still be ahead of Detroit regardless of their outcome against the Storm.

On Friday, the only game on the Eastern Conference docket is a big one - New York at Chicago. It looks like the Liberty, at 11-16, will have to be perfect the rest of the way to keep their postseason aspirations alive. With a win, Chicago (13-15) could jump ahead of the Shock by improving to 14-15 (.483), a winning percentage .002 better than Detroit’s.

Whether the Sky defeat New York or not, the Shock can leapfrog Chicago again by winning at San Antonio Saturday. The game is at 3 p.m. on ESPN2.

Chicago and Detroit still meet head-to-head twice, including the regular-season finale Sept. 12, so there should be a lot on the line when they meet at The Palace Sun., Sept. 6.

Washington is idle until Sunday, when it hosts Minnesota.

“We noticed the difference of them not knowing exactly who to go to for that basket, get a foul or something, but that’s something they have to play through,” Nolan said. “Good on our part, bad on theirs.”

The Dream, who held a 66-64 lead after three quarters on 45.1 percent shooting, were just 6-of-18 in the fourth.

After averaging 22.3 points over the past three games, Katie Smith had a relatively quiet evening with nine points on 2-of-7 shooting. Zellous added 12 of the bench, with Alexis Hornbuckle and Taj McWilliams each posting 10 points and seven rebounds.

Detroit had an edge in the paint, where for the first time this season the Shock outrebounded Atlanta, 43-39. Cheryl Ford led Detroit with 12 rebounds, while league leader Erika DeSouza grabbed seven of her game-high 13 on the offensive glass for Atlanta. The Shock had 18 offensive rebounds.

“That’s always huge especially with a big team like that with DeSouza, [Michelle] Snow and [Sancho] Lyttle, very athletic bigs that can get a lot offensive rebounds,” Mahorn said. “This time we didn’t let them get offensive rebounds down the stretch. That’s how we lost a couple games earlier in the season.”

Dream coach Marynell Meadors saw it differently.

“I thought Detroit did what they had to do. They came out like the bunch of bullies that they are and pushed us around and no calls were made,” she said. “I thought that was exactly what they had to do.”

Despite being closely played in the first and fourth quarters, there was a 22-point swing in middle of the game. The Shock led by 12 in second quarter before Atlanta made a closing 16-1 run. The Dream eventually led by 10 early in the third quarter.

“It’s all the stuff that we know that we were doing wrong,” Nolan said of breakdowns on defense. “Helping when we weren’t supposed to be helping, they came down hit three 3s in a row, just doing little things that we know not to do -- trying to go for steals, being out of defensive position, not boxing out -- little things that we can control and turn around.”

The Dream have played the better part of four games without Holdsclaw. Her status remains questionable as Atlanta plays its next four games on the road. The Dream have just one home game remaining, which could hamper their ability to hold onto the No. 2 playoff seed in the East.

Nonetheless, having taken three of four meetings with the Shock in 2009, Meadors didn’t sound concerned following the lone setback.

“I think we’re a better team than they are,” she said.