Nolan leaves with concussion, Dream fail to capitalize

Shock Host Classic Comeback

The WNBA Playoffs opened at The Palace Wednesday. Naturally, the Shock were nearly run off the floor in the first half.

Of course, they came back to win after ending the third quarter on a 17-0 run. Like we said, it’s the playoffs.

Detroit’s 94-89 Game 1 victory typified a lot of Shock games over the past three postseasons - moments of utter chaos and disarray followed by brilliant stretches of dominance and, in the end, just enough clutch plays from the veterans who’ve seen nothing short of the Finals since 2006.

The final product was the largest postseason comeback in Shock history. Detroit trailed Atlanta by 18 in final minute of the first quarter, 30-12.

“It’s just a testament to our team,” said head coach Rick Mahorn. “They come out there, they stayed focused. This is a 40-minute game, this is a 120-minute series, and you don’t give up. You just keep on pushing and keep on plugging and we got some stops and got some good transition baskets and that makes the game a lot easier.”

Detroit’s second-half surge came on accuracy from long range - five 3-pointers on six attempts, two each from Deanna Nolan and Shavonte Zellous - and the low-post reliability of Kara Braxton, who scored 14 of her 16 points after halftime.

“It’s been huge this year, since we’ve been on this run,” Mahorn said of his team’s depth, which compensated again for the absence of Katie Smith. “It seems like someone steps up and Kara Braxton tonight stepped up coming off the bench. It’s good to have people who can score and also who can play defense because she was big at the end getting offensive [rebounds], second chance opportunities.”

The Rally Revisited

Alexis Hornbuckle set a new playoff career high with 15 points.
Allen Einstein (NBAE/Getty)
Nonchalance in the first quarter is nothing new for the Shock, but they were downright lethargic at the outset. They didn’t grab their first rebound - offensive or defensive - for seven and a half minutes. At the end of the first quarter, they had been outrebounded, 15-2.

“I thought we were rusty in the first period,” Mahorn said. “I felt we weren’t attacking the basket and when you don’t attack the basket you don’t get any free throws.” The Dream made 15 of 16 free throws in the first half, while Nolan split Detroit’s only two attempts.

The Shock still trailed by 13 with 5:29 left in the third quarter when Mahorn challenged his team. “We go in the huddle and Rick just said, ‘Turn it up. We have the ability to do that and we need to do that right here, right now,’” Hornbuckle said.

The Dream scored just once more in the quarter while the Shock scored 17 straight, nine coming on three 3-pointers, two by Zellous and one by Nolan.

“We’re not coming out if this timeout flat,” Hornbuckle said. “The five players that went out on that court, we looked at each other and said, ‘Nobody’s taking this game from us.’ That was our mindset after that.”

Braxton scored to open the fourth, giving the Shock 19 unanswered points, and Hornbuckle’s lone 3-pointer helped the Shock take their only double-digit lead at 79-69.

Meadors’ Mistake?

Crystal Kelly nails two free throws to seal the victory for the Shock.
Allen Einstein (NBAE/Getty)
The Shock had a 30-13 advantage in bench scoring, with 28 coming from Braxton and Zellous. But the biggest two came from Crystal Kelly, who drained two free throws with 16.2 seconds left, pushing Detroit’s 90-89 lead to three.

It was a strategic error by Dream coach Marynell Meadors, who selected Kelly - a career 84.7 percent free-throw shooter - to shoot the free throws on behalf of Nolan, who had to leave the game with concussion.

“She had been sitting on the bench the whole game and you try to get somebody who hasn’t been in the game,” Meadors said of Kelly, who had played only two minutes, both in the first half. “At the time she could’ve walked up and missed them both and I would’ve looked pretty good. But as it was - she made them.”

Meadors could have also chosen Olayinka Sanni - who had not entered the game and shot 69.4 percent from the line this season - or Braxton, a career 66.2-percent free-throw shooter. The Shock couldn’t help but grin at the gaffe.

“Someone must have had a misprint or something,” Mahorn said. “You pick Kelly, I mean, we looked at it and said, ‘Ok, you put Crystal in there.’ Crystal comes and knocks down two big free throws for us.”

“We were surprised,” said Alexis Hornbuckle, who had 15 points, five assist and five rebounds. “We were happy and let’s leave it at that.”

Nolan suffers concussion

Deanna Nolan left the game with 16.2 seconds left in the fourth quarter.
Allen Einstein (NBAE/Getty)
The Shock could smile about Kelly’s free throws later, but the situation preceding it was no laughing matter as Nolan, who took a hard hit on a previous possession, nearly collapsed under the basket after a seemingly innocuous intentional foul above the 3-point line.

A hushed Palace crowd watched as Nolan had to be helped to the bench. Even minutes later she walked off the court with assistance from trainer Laura Ramus, a towel over her head. She was diagnosed with a concussion after the game.

“Right now we’ll assess that after the doctors look at her, but I think she’ll be ready to play on Friday,” Mahorn said. “She did a great job tonight.” Nolan scored 15 of her team-high 25 points in the second half.

The Shock, which essentially had a seven-player rotation the entire night, coped much better with their injury setbacks than the Dream. Chamique Holdsclaw, Atlanta’s leading scorer through 25 games, played for the first time since knee surgery in late August but was ineffective. She played 13 minutes off the bench, scoring three points on 1-of-4 shooting.

The Dream were also missing starting point guard Shalee Lehning, giving Ivory Latta her first start of the season against the team that drafted her in 2007. Latta had scored 32 points and shot 9-for-10 from the field, 4-for-4 on triples and 10-for-10 on free throws in her two prior visits to The Palace with the Dream. But she was 0-for-5 from the field Wednesday, totaling just six points and three assists in 38 minutes.