The Indiana Fever can take at least one positive from Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals: they wont play their last game of the season at The Palace of Auburn Hills, as they did in 2006, 2007 and 2008.
However, thats not to say their 2009 campaign didnt just end, so potentially devastating was the Detroit Shocks 72-56 victory over the Easts No. 1 seed Wednesday night.
Shavonte Zellous - whom the Fever bypassed in last Aprils draft with the No. 6 pick and fell to Detroit at No. 11 - scored a game-high 23 points to lead the Shock, which swung an 11-point deficit into a 16-point lead in the waning moments.
Deanna Nolan scored 22 points and Kara Braxton added 10 points and nine rebounds. Zellous and Braxton combined for all of Detroits bench points, which outscored Indianas reserves, 33-8.
I just felt the flow of the game from the time I jumped in in the first quarter, said Zellous, who scored 16 points in 15 first-half minutes. All my coaches are just telling me is attack, attack, attack and get to the free-throw line.
Zellous, who is expected to be named to the All-Rookie Team on Thursday afternoon, made and attempted more free throws (10-of-11) than the entire Indiana squad (6-of-9).
Deanna is playing lights out right now, Zellous as well because she has been attacking the basket and getting to the free-throw line, said Shock coach Rick Mahorn. When you can get to the free-throw line and attack, you get good open looks and dribble penetration.
The Fever led 35-24 with three minutes left in the second quarter before Detroit ended the half on an 11-2 run to pull within 37-35 at halftime.
It was a great boost, said Zellous, who capped the run with a 3-pointer with 2.9 seconds left. We were down 11 and we just had to stay together. I think in the second quarter we buckled down on defense and thats how we were able to make our run."
That defense carried over to the third quarter in a big way. Indiana scored just six points, the second-fewest in any quarter in WNBA postseason history. The Fever missed 13 of 16 shots in the quarter, shooting just 35.5 percent for the game. The Shock had eight blocked shots and won the rebounding battle, 36-29.
Detroit, when they want to, can be a very, very good defensive team, Fever coach Lin Dunn said. They can be very tough. Every time it seemed like when we got to the rim, somebody blocked one of our shots.
Detroit turned the ball over just four times in the second half, depriving Indiana of the turnovers they rely on to spark its running game. The Fever forced the league's most turnovers during the regular season.
When you take away their transition and their offensive rebounding, its hard for them to score in the half-court, said Nolan, whose jumper gave the Shock its first lead, 39-37, in the third. We just have to buckle down and play defense and stop people, and thats what we did.
Wednesdays outcome kept two streaks intact: the Shock won their eighth consecutive postseason game, and the Fever suffered another gut-wrenching playoff loss at The Palace. Indianas track record for heartbreak on Detroits floor since 2006 is extensive: in addition to three straight season-ending defeats, the Fever lost All-WNBA forward Tamika Catchings to an Achilles tendon injury in the first half of Game 3 in 2007 and were blown away, 41-10, at start of Game 3 last year.
This time, the first half - the first 17 minutes, anyway - went according to plan. After that, the Fever looked like a team fighting its past as much as its opponent.
[Detroits] tenacity, their toughness, was greater than ours was, Dunn said. We started out pretty well in the first half, but I thought at times in the second half we just did not match their energy, their effort or their sense of urgency.
The series now turns to Conseco Fieldhouse, where the Fever boast a league-best 13-4 home record. But the Shock are 2-1 in playoff games there since 2006, including a Game 1 win last year.
I think theres definitely pressure, our backs are against the wall, said Katie Douglas, who scored 16 points to lead the Fever. I dont think that theres any more pressure than just the thought of the elimination.
While the ghosts of playoffs past could haunt the Fever - whether they acknowledge them or not - the Shock are motivated by a different kind of history. One more victory would send them to a fourth straight WNBA Finals, a feat accomplished only by the Houston Comets, who won the leagues first four titles (1997-2000).
I told the young ladies, this is going to be hard, Mahorn said. When youre Indiana, when youve got your back against the wall, youre going to make sure you come out hard and we just have to match that energy and make sure we give ourselves a good chance to win a game down there.