The Shock completed their 4-0 season sweep of the Sky, which had to win to remain in postseason contention, with an 80-69 victory at the University of Illinois-Chicago Pavilion Saturday night.
Trailing 41-22 at halftime after shooting just 22 percent, the Shock roared back by outscoring Chicago in the third, 33-11. Detroit shot 67 percent in the third, and five of their 12 field goals were 3-pointers. Three came from Deanna Nolan, who scored 13 of her 19 points in the third, and the other two from Nikki Teasley, who scored all eight of her points in the quarter.
“We said it at halftime. The same thing happens to us when we’re up at halftime, 15-plus points, it’s so easy for a team to come back on us,” Nolan said. “We can do the same thing.”
The rally silenced the crowd at UIC Pavilion, which had come out to see the Sky clinch the first playoff berth in the club’s four-year existence. Instead, the Sky (16-18) will lose the No. 4 playoff seed on a tiebreaker to Washington, which defeated Atlanta earlier in the day.
Kara Braxton gave Detroit its first lead with two free throws with 1:30 left in the third quarter, 51-49. She scored the last six points of the quarter for Detroit, which led entering the fourth, 55-52. Braxton also scored Detroit’s first two baskets of the fourth.
The Shock were rolling until Braxton dove to the floor for a loose ball and suffered a cut above her left eye. The Shock led 61-56 with 7:52 left in the fourth when she walked off the floor with a towel over her eye. Braxton returned with a bandage over her eye and finished with 14 points on 6-of-7 shooting and seven rebounds.
Already playing with the league-minimum nine players – starting guards Alexis Hornbuckle and Katie Smith also missed the game – the Shock saw their lead sliced to 62-60 without Braxton, forcing Shock coach Mahorn to call a timeout.
“They needed a timeout because I played four people most of the second half,” Mahorn said. “With Nolan, who’s out there and accustomed to it, but we had Nolan, Teasley and [Shavonte] Zellous out there so I was trying to get them that extra break so we could have that little extra push at the end just in case they did make a big run.”
The Chicago response would never come. After the timeout, Zellous hit a 3 and Nolan had a steal and fast-break layup to make it 67-60. Taj McWilliams scored back-to-back baskets to make it 71-63 with three minutes left.
The Shock had lost similar leads in the last two minutes of their previous two games, but not this time. McWilliams hit a jumper and Nolan made two free throws to give the Shock their first double-digit lead, 76-65, with 55.7 second left.
Zellous scored a team-high 20 points, and McWilliams had the game’s only double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds.
“When somebody goes down, we all have to step up and make up for that player and I think today’s game was a total team effort from the coaching staff on down and it’s good momentum building going into the playoffs,” Teasley said.
Detroit will host Game 1 against No. 2 seed Atlanta on Wednesday or Thursday at The Palace. The Dream gave the Shock fits this season, averaging 89.3 points as they took the first three of four meetings. After Detroit won the fourth game at The Palace, 87-83, Aug. 27, Dream coach Marynell Meadors said the Shock played “like the bullies they are.”
“They give us a handful because they’re very talented, they’re very athletic,” Mahorn said. “You’ve got to worry about [Angel] McCoughtry, you’ve got to worry about Sancho Lyttle, you’ve got Erika de Souza. This is a very big ball club so when we try to match up with them they know how to get out and run.” Teasley, who has started the last seven games in place of Katie Smith, is looking forward to a playoff series against the Dream, which cut her shortly after the season began.
“Yeah, it’s always fun to play against a team that’s cut you,” she said. “But the most important thing is, we’re going for a championship, and this is the first step, collectively as team, to get to the next level – to get to the championship.”
AfterShocks: With Hornbuckle sidelined by a hamstring strain suffered in Thursday’s win over New York, the Shock signed 2009 third-round draft pick Tanae Davis-Cain. The team was allowed to sign Davis-Cain in order to reach the nine-player minimum. She scored two points in four minutes. She will not be on the playoff roster. “I’m quite sure she’ll be back,” Mahorn said of Hornbuckle for the playoff opener. “I think with her getting a little banged up and our team being banged up everybody came out and picked their game up.”