Detroit exploits Chicago miscues at key times

Shock rise above Sky, and .500

The Shock didn’t have to beat the Sky Sunday night at The Palace. They just had to capitalize when Chicago beat itself.

The Shock scored 30 points off 21 Chicago turnovers to win, 84-75, without Katie Smith, who missed her fourth straight game with back pain. Detroit is 7-1 in its last eight games and over .500 for the first time this season (16-15).

“Defense makes offense and if you can get some turnovers and use that to your advantage, it helps that you don’t have to run down and set up a play,” said Shock coach Rick Mahorn.

The Shock scored 14 of their 18 points in the first quarter off eight Chicago turnovers, but couldn’t get a lead larger than four. The lead was 38-36 at halftime, and then the Sky squeaked ahead at the end of the third, 58-57.

“Chicago’s one of those teams that kind of puts you to sleep a little bit, the next thing you know they’re in the game and we’re in a dogfight,” Mahorn said.

Detroit opened the fourth quarter on an 11-4 run, during which time the Sky committed seven turnovers, including consecutive shot-clock violations. The Shock led by at least four the rest of the way. The Sky shot 37 percent in the fourth quarter, which was also their shooting percentage for the game.

“Even if we don’t score, we make it a point [that] they don’t score,” said Deanna Nolan who had 19 points and eight rebounds, both game highs. “We’ve got to do a better job of rebounding but we are digging them out and really pushing the ball and just going at them.”

The Shock offense was unspectacular - shooting 42.0 percent from the field - but serviceable without Smith, their second-leading scorer. Five players scored in double figures - Nolan, Kara Braxton (17), Shavonte Zellous (16), Cheryl Ford (13) and Taj McWilliams (10). “Everybody knows they have to step up and fill in that role of her contributions - her points, her assists, her rebounds, everything,” Nolan said.

The Shock had a major advantage in the pivot, where Braxton was stunningly efficient on the offensive end. The fifth-year center scored 17 points in 17 minutes on 7-of-14 shooting, along with four assists, tying her career high. She also grabbed three of her seven rebounds on the offensive glass.

Conversely, Chicago’s All-Star center Sylvia Fowles was hobbled by an ankle injury that had kept her out of five straight games before Friday. Fowles came off the bench but mustered just two points and three rebounds in 18 minutes. Playing on two good legs Aug. 9 at The Palace, Fowles had 18 rebounds, the most ever by a Shock opponent.

“We were trying to get her in pick and rolls because we know she’s so athletic,” said Mahorn, explaining how the Shock attacked Fowles' limited mobility. “It looked like she was hurting a little bit, but you’ve got to take your hat off to her because she went out there and tried to compete because she knows how important it is for them to make a playoff run.”

The win separates Detroit from the pack it was trying to catch just a week ago. Chicago, Washington (which lost Saturday to Indiana) and Connecticut are each 15-17, with the Shock 1.5 games ahead. Detroit is only 0.5 games behind Atlanta (17-15) for second place.

The Shock close the regular season at Chicago next Saturday. Last week that contest appeared to be shaping up as a de facto play-in game, but no longer. Detroit should be off the bubble with one more win in their last three games, and by Sept. 12 could be playing for home-court advantage in the first round.

Coincidentally, the Sky Sunday looked like the team Detroit was at the beginning of the season, when a 2-7 start put the Shock in last place and far from the playoff discussion.

“If you really think about it we really only lost three or four games that a team actually beat us,” Nolan said. “We were beating ourselves so we knew what we had to do the second half of the season to turn it around.”