Zellous Boosts Indiana Over Liberty With Playoffs On Horizon
INDIANAPOLIS – When the curtain closed Sunday evening on the WNBA’s regular season, the Indiana Fever quickly shifted into playoffs mode.
The 2015 postseason begins for Indiana on Thursday, when the third-seeded Fever travel to Chicago for the opener of a best-of-three series in the Eastern Conference semifinals. The Fever lost all four of their regular-season games to second-seeded Chicago. But as the Indiana players will emphasize: That was then, this is now.
“We know what’s at stake right now,” said Fever guard Shavonte Zellous. “We can’t worry about what they did to us during the regular season. This is a whole new season right now.”
If confidence proves to be a factor for postseason play, Zellous should be brimming with it.
PHOTO GALLERY: Fever 81, Liberty 76 »
The veteran came off the bench Sunday to score a season-high 22 points and lead Indiana to an 81-76 triumph over the New York Liberty at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Eighteen of Zellous’ points came in the second half, and the Fever simply rode that scoring to victory.
It was something of a milestone victory, too, lifting Indiana to 20 wins for the season against 14 losses. The Fever finished with 20 regular-season wins for the first time since their 2012 squad recorded a 22-12 mark and went on to the WNBA championship. Also, Indiana Coach Stephanie White became just the third rookie head coach in league history to win at least 20.
About a week ago, however, White was worried less about records than the way her team was performing in general. The Fever were struggling and had dropped five of six games.
But now they will head into the playoffs after having won two straight – largely because of gutty play and resolve.
“It’s not quite where I’d like it to be, but at the same time, I feel much better with these (last two) games leading into playoffs,” White said. “I feel like we’ve gotten better. … Right now, I feel a little better about where we are and much better about our mindset.”
It helped, too, that Briann January returned to the lineup for Sunday’s game. After missing five straight games with a sore knee, the veteran point guard scored 13 points with a couple of assists in 20 minutes.
“It was killing me just sitting back on the sideline and watching them play,” said January, happy to see action again with the playoffs at hand. “You have to get that rhythm back, especially when you miss consecutive games, consecutive days of practicing.”
The Fever, as a group, found their rhythm in the second half against New York. After shooting just 25.8 percent from the field in the first half, the Fever hit 53.3 percent in the second. They had four assists in the first half, 10 in the second.
Better passes, improved execution, better team play. White talked about it all at the half, when the Fever trailed by a 33-31 count.
“I just really challenged our team at halftime to come out and make each other better,” White said.
A wave of fourth-quarter scoring from Zellous – who during one spell totaled 10 points in about 2 minutes – helped immensely. And with the score tied at 76-all with 1:55 remaining, Indiana took control.
Rookie Natalie Achonwa hit a layup after an assist from Erlana Larkins. Achonwa, who finished with 13 points, connected on another driving shot after a post feed from Zellous. And Zellous capped off the closing run with a free throw.
Sugar Rodgers had 15 points to lead the Liberty, who enter the playoffs with the WNBA’s best record (23-11). Indiana won four of five games against New York this summer. Also, the Fever defeated New York for the seventh consecutive time in regular-season games at the Fieldhouse.
“Today was just a great team win,” Indiana’s January said. “Everybody stepped up, contributed, played a huge role in us pulling out this game. …This is the time when we need to be firing on all cylinders, and I thought our second half today was really a step forward and some momentum carrying into the playoffs.”
September 13, 2015 – Players and coaches from both teams give their thoughts following the Fever’s 81-76 victory over the New York on Sunday night.
September 13, 2015 – Briann January, Shavonte Zellous and head coach Stephanie White give their take on Sunday’s 81-76 win over the New York Liberty.
September 13, 2015 – Liberty coach Bill Laimbeer and players Sugar Rodgers and Tina Charles react to the Fever’s 81-76 victory at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
September 13, 2015 – Fever guard Shavonte Zellous drills a 3-pointer and draws a foul against the New York Liberty at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
September 13, 2015 – Fever guard Maggie Lucas drains a 3-pointer from the right corner just before the first quarter buzzer against the New York Liberty.