Rebounding could decide Shock-Dream series winner

Bullies on the Boards

It didn’t matter to Marynell Meadors that her team, the Atlanta Dream, had defeated the defending WNBA champions three straight times after getting swept the year before.

She wasn’t interested in talking about the absence of her leading scorer, Chamique Holdslcaw, or the fact there was more at stake for Shock, which were perilously close to missing the playoffs at the time.

Meadors got right to the point following the Shock’s 87-83 victory at The Palace on Aug. 27. She felt her team got beat up, so she countered with a jab of her own.

“I thought Detroit did what they had to do,” Meadors said in a clipped voice. “They came out like the bunch of bullies that they are and pushed us around and no calls were made. I thought that was exactly what they had to do.”

Postgame hyperbole? Perhaps. But Meadors and the Shock players would agree on this: only the bigger bully will survive their best-of-three playoff series, which tips off Wednesday at The Palace.

“I think it’s going to be physical,” Deanna Nolan said. “We have to keep a body on them, know where their bigs are at all times.”

Atlanta and Detroit finished the season ranked first and third, respectively, in rebounding. And in their four regular-season meetings, the team with more rebounds won every time. The stakes are clear: rebound, or regret it.

In some respects, the mission is also personal for the Shock, who have long considered rebounding to be a cornerstone of their three championships. The Dream, a second-year franchise, presents a surprisingly stout challenge to their established supremacy of the boards.

”Keeping up with them is going to be really tough for us. We have to box out,” said Taj McWilliams, who averaged 7.7 rebounds against Atlanta this season. “… No doubt about it, they’ve demolished on us on the rebounding glass.”

The Dream, which collected a league-best 37.0 rebounds per game, have two of the WNBA’s top-10 rebounders: 6-foot-5 center Erika de Souza, whose 9.1 rebounds per game trailed only league leader Candace Parker, and 6-foot-4 Sancho Lyttle, who is up for Most Improved Player honors after averaging 7.4 rebounds.

The Dream also have 6-foot-6 center Michelle Snow, who plays sporadically but can impact a game at any time. She had 16 points and a season-high 12 rebounds, including five offensive, when the Dream won in overtime at The Palace July 22. The Shock shot 48 percent in that game, but gave up 12 offensive rebounds to the Dream, which shot 42 percent. Atlanta won, 98-95.

“It’s going to come down to the battle of the boards, and I think our coaching staff has broken it down to how poorly they would shoot on their first shots, and how well they shoot [on second chances],” McWilliams said, who is a member of Detroit’s own big three with Cheryl Ford and Kara Braxton.

Ford, a three-time WNBA rebounding leader, is averaging 9.0 rebounds per game in September and should be stronger than she was in any prior meeting with the Dream. Braxton, who had 25 points and 12 rebounds July 22, is averaging a career-best 6.0 rebounds.

“Apparently we’re bullies,” McWilliams said. “I don’t know how a team that starts a 6-5, 6-4 that can leap out of the gym, Michelle Snow coming off the bench (at) 6-6, would consider us bullies, but I’m only 6-2 and I’m the lightest of everybody on the court.”

The Shock did indeed lead the league in fouls, but Atlanta has bumped and nudged a few opponents, too - they finished second, committing essentially the same number of fouls per game. That would seem to work in Detroit’s favor, since no team relishes the physicality of playoff basketball more.

“We’re looking forward to it,” Nolan said. “They say the last time we played them and won we bullied them. But I think it’s just us … getting in their heads a little bit, if you see that way, because we didn’t really do anything special to bully them.

If you really want us to bully you, we can.”