Cheryl Ford posts season-high 22 points, 11 rebounds

A Vintage Ford

The Phoenix Mercury are the Maserati of WNBA offenses. The Detroit Shock would take their vintage Ford over that anytime.

Cheryl Ford’s 22 points and 11 rebounds powered the Shock to a 101-99 victory over the Mercury Tuesday night at The Palace. It was Ford’s first game with at least 20 points and 10 rebounds since June 22, 2008 at Atlanta - about a month before the right ACL injury that ended her 2008 campaign.

“We talked about working inside-out today and we wanted to post up strong and we did,” said Ford, who led the WNBA in rebounding three times before a series of knee injuries in 2007 and 2008. “We knew they were going to make a run and we had to continue to play defense, get back in transition and we knew we needed to win this game.”

Deanna Nolan scored 19 of her 21 points after halftime, making seven of 10 field goals after a 1-of-3 start. The second half was a wild affair, featuring 14 lead changes and seven ties as the teams combined to shoot a remarkable 59.5 percent from the field, including 11-of-19 on 3-pointers.

Even more remarkable is that the Shock accomplished all this - and their first 100-point game of the season - without their second-leading scorer, Katie Smith, who missed her second straight game with lower back pain. The Shock nonetheless had five players in double figures: Ford, Nolan, Taj McWilliams (12), Shavonte Zellous (12), and Kara Braxton (10).

Head coach Rick Mahorn credited “going big,” by playing the 6-foot-2 McWilliams at Smith’s small forward position to pose match-up problems for the perimeter-oriented Mercury.

“We went to a lineup where it was Taj at the three, Kara Braxton and Cheryl Ford, and Cheryl Ford just dominated in the paint,” Mahorn said. “When you’ve got that, it’s hard for another team to match up, because Taj is so tall at the three.”

Ford is averaging 7.9 points and 7.0 rebounds this season, both career lows for the seventh-year forward. But Ford, who exceeded those numbers with 12 points and eight rebounds at halftime, said Tuesday was the best she’s felt all season.

Zellous edges ahead in ROY race?

Once the WNBA Draft concluded in April, Auburn’s DeWanna Bonner, the fourth pick, and Pittsburgh’s Shavonte Zellous, who went seven picks later, were far down anyone’s list for Rookie of the Year candidates. If they got on the list at all.

Yet when the Mercury visited the Shock Friday, Bonner and Zellous were right in the mix with No. 1 overall pick Angel McCoughtry. But Zellous may have edged ahead of Bonner slightly with her head-to-head showing Tuesday.

Zellous broke a 91-91 tie with a pull-up jumper from 16 feet with just under three minutes left. Two possessions later she rebounded a missed Bonner 3-pointer and brought the ball upcourt, passing up her own open shot to find a waiting Deanna Nolan, whose 3-pointer gave Detroit a 96-92 cushion. Zellous had three assists in the fourth; Bonner had three fouls.

“I can tell you I’m tired right now,” Zellous said of playing against the Mercury’s up-tempo offense. “That’s a team that likes to run but we had to sacrifice our bodies and get back in transition and get some stops.”

Zellous finished with 12 points on 5-of-15 shooting with five assists, two steals, two blocks and two rebounds in 31 minutes. Bonner had six points on 2-of-6 shooting with four rebounds, one assist and one block in 18 minutes.

On the season, the two are a statistical draw. Zellous (11.6 points in 22.6 minutes) and Bonner (11.3 points in 21.8 minutes) are the second and third leading rookie scorers, respectively, behind McCoughtry. Zellous is the greater 3-point threat; Bonner the better rebounder. Defensively, if you like steals you’d side with the 5-foot-10 Zellous; if you’re looking for blocks, the 6-foot-4 Bonner’s your pick.

“Yes it is. It totally it is,” she said. “I actually didn’t feel any pain today. I felt pretty good today in warm-ups so I kind of figured in shootaround I was going to do pretty well in the game today.”

With Ford scoring eight points on 4-of-6 shooting, the Shock went on a 22-6 run to close the first quarter after Phoenix took a 6-0 lead. The Mercury made just one of their last 13 field-goal attempts in the quarter while committing seven turnovers. The Mercury ended up with 19 turnovers, nine more than the Shock.

“It was huge because it’s 19 shots they didn’t get up,” Mahorn said. “We didn’t turn the ball over either which was great for us on one end because you’ve got to make them play defense to some degree.”

Alexis Hornbuckle hit Detroit's only 3-pointer of the first half, but it was a big one, pushing the Shock to their largest lead at 36-22.

Diana Taurasi, the WNBA’s leading scorer, didn’t score until 1:53 left in the second quarter but then hit back-to-back triples. That ignited the Mercury’s top-ranked offense, which ended the first half with a 14-4 flurry to pull within 42-39 at halftime.

The Mercury, who average 90 points per game, shot 10-of-23 from 3-point range to combat Detroit’s strength in the paint. Taurasi finished with 20 points and Cappie Pondexter - who won Finals MVP honors against Detroit in 2007 - scored a game-high 25 points on 8-of-12 shooting.

“You’ve got to win by one point. The girls really played hard,” Mahorn said. “Offensively we kept thinking, we can get anything we want, but on the defensive end that’s a high-powered [Phoenix] offense … when you shoot 10-for-23, it’s hard to defend that.”

By defeating the Western Conference leaders, the Shock (14-15) keep themselves involved in a fierce five-way battle for the remaining three playoff seeds in the East. All five teams are separated by just 1.5 games.

Now the Shock face the other conference leader, Indiana, on Friday. The first-place Fever have defeated the Shock three times this season. That game, and Sunday’s critical showdown with Chicago, are both at The Palace.

“We want to get to the playoffs and defend our championship and the only way to do that is to win our home-court games,” Ford said.