|Zellous shines off the bench
Rick Mahorn’s biggest adjustment since becoming head coach paid instant dividends Sunday when he inserted Alexis Hornbuckle into the starting lineup for struggling rookie Shavonte Zellous.
“We know it’s tough on a rookie to get in there and start in the WNBA,” Mahorn said. “It’s kind of an adjustment period and we felt she can benefit us better coming off the bench, seeing what’s going on the court, and then going out there and executing.”
Zellous entered the game in the first minute of the second quarter. Playing noticeably more relaxed than she had in her first four games, the former Pittsburgh star hit three of her first four shots, scoring eight of her 13 points in the second.
Zellous said she felt more at ease coming off the bench rather than trying to fit in with Detroit’s veteran-laden lineup. “I wouldn’t really call it pressure, but just knowing your role, because you are on a team with a bunch of veterans so it was basically just knowing [my] role,” she said.
In the second quarter, she converted a 3-on-2 situation with a layup and hit a 3-pointer from the top of the key. Zellous hit her toughest shot from the baseline after drawing a foul on fellow rookie Briann January. She hit the free throw to give Detroit a 43-37 lead.
“Yes, finally I made a shot,” joked Zellous, who made only one of nine shots Friday, committing five fouls and four turnovers. After going 1-for-7 beyond the 3-point arc to start the season, Zellous knocked down both triples she attempted Sunday.
That’s the simplest way to explain how the Shock’s 17-point lead in the third quarter petered away, culminating in an 82-70 Fever victory at Conseco Fieldhouse Sunday. The Fever went on a 23-2 run to open the fourth quarter.
“I guess our tank got a little low on the gas,” said head coach Rick Mahorn, who will have to try again for his first win in Atlanta on Friday. The 29-point swing is the largest in franchise history for the Fever, who now have won consecutive games against Detroit in the regular season for the first time since 2005.
Sunday’s contest had an entirely different feel than Friday’s 66-54 defeat at The Palace, in which the Shock tied their franchise low for points against the Fever. The teams nearly matched Friday’s 27-25 halftime score at the end of the first quarter, which Detroit led, 24-23.
The Shock shot 57.9 percent in the opening quarter, with Deanna Nolan scoring eight of her team-high 16 points. “We didn’t play four quarters of basketball,” Nolan said. “They shut us down defensively in the fourth quarter. And we didn’t make any big shots when we need them.”
The Shock went on 6-0 runs to open both the second and third quarters. They seemed well in command when the lead peaked at 54-37 with 6:53 left in the third quarter. Even the turnovers that had plagued the Shock in previous losses had been kept to a minimum, with just 10 through three quarters. But they had six in the fourth, while Indiana had just two.
“The cause for the lack of offense in the fourth quarter was lack of defense, turnovers and missed shots,” said Smith, who scored 10 of her 15 points before halftime. “We couldn’t get stops when we needed them.”
The Shock clearly miss the suspended Kara Braxton and injured Plenette Pierson, who would have provided the depth Mahorn desperately needed to turn to Sunday, especially when Cheryl Ford and Olayinka Sanni got into foul trouble. The Shock have lost three straight since splitting the home-and-home series with the Sparks.
“It can wear you down, but you’re still the Detroit Shock, you’ve still got to come in here and compete,” Mahorn said of being shorthanded. “I thought the girls did that for three quarters, and that last period we probably just didn’t have it.”