WNBA Today, 06/02/2012: Four times the fun

The WNBA really isn’t being considerate of people like me when they put four or five games on the same night (or on the very occasional insane evening, six). Don’t they realise just how much watching, note-taking and writing that results in? Anyway, four games last night, and as always WNBAlien has coverage of all of them for you. As you might expect, we’re going Bullet Point Breakdown style, and trying to keep it moderately succinct.

 

Minnesota Lynx 85 @ Connecticut Sun 72

  • The slate opened with the big matchup of two undefeated teams. Minnesota started their standard five, with Taj McWilliams-Franklin having shaken off the back pain suffered in their last game. Connecticut promoted Kalana Greene back into their starting lineup to replace Allison Hightower, and had Tan White now fit enough to contribute off the bench.
  • Messy first quarter, too much sloppy play from the Lynx, too many bricks from the Sun. Monica Wright, off the Minnesota bench, was the only bright spot.
  • By halftime it was still tight, with Minnesota up 38-36. Massive discrepancies in key statistical categories were all balancing each other out. Connecticut were shooting only 31% to Minnesota’s 49%, thanks to far too many perimeter jumpers that wouldn’t fall. Minnesota were trailing 13-6 on the offensive glass, giving the Sun far too many second chances. And the Lynx had 12 turnovers to Connecticut’s 4. Minnesota have been disappointingly careless with the ball in a few games so far, but been good enough to play through it.
  • Maya Moore was having a wildly ineffective, desperately quiet game, just as she did last year in her only return to the state where she starred in college. Good thing Wright had stepped up to fill in.
  • The pattern from the first half continued until 8:13 remained in the game, when Lynx head coach Cheryl reeve called a timeout. Too many turnovers from Minnesota, too many offensive rebounds allowed (Connecticut already had 19 by that point), and the Sun had built a 63-58 lead. If they’d been able to shoot, or if Asjha Jones and Renee Montgomery had been remotely effective on the night, they’d have been up by a lot more.
  • Moore was benched at that 8:13 mark for Wright, and Seimone Augustus and Taj McWilliams-Franklin returned to the game after a rest. And the Lynx finally found the ‘on’ switch. They didn’t allow a single Sun offensive board for the rest of the game. McWilliams-Franklin stepped up her defense on Tina Charles (just like she did against Candace Parker in the fourth quarter last week). The perimeter players increased their defensive pressure to create some turnovers and fastbreak chances. And in barely three minutes of action, a 13-2 run had taken the Lynx 71-65 in front.
  • 12 of Minnesota’s 13 points in that key run were on layups.
  • Minnesota collapse and help impressively on defense, especially when their starters are out there, but the Sun still seemed to forget that Tina Charles is their bread and butter late in this game. She didn’t see nearly enough of the ball.
  • Instead, we got lots of Renee Montgomery going one-on-one, and impressive as that can sometimes be, the efficiency often isn’t great.
  • It was as close as 74-70 with three minutes left, before the Lynx added a gloss to the final score in the closing stages that didn’t reflect the true balance of the game. The 13-point gap between the teams at the end was flattering to the Lynx.
  • Augustus was the star for Minnesota, shooting 10-18 for 23 points. Rebekkah Brunson finished with 14 points and 13 boards but won’t be happy with all the offensive rebounds Connecticut gathered. Wright went 4-8 for 13 points in under 19 minutes of action, continuing her strong start to the season. After a messy start, Lindsay Whalen eventually had one of her better games this year, finishing with 10 points, 6 boards and 8 assists.
  • Connecticut had Charles with 20 points and 12 boards, and then not a lot else. Kara Lawson hit a few shots and finished with 14, but Asjha Jones had a very quiet night (8 points, 6 rebounds).
  • Renee Montgomery eventually amassed 16 points. Which sounds great until you add that she shot 4-15 and had only one assist in 29 minutes. They do use her to create when nothing else is happening, but sometimes nothing else is happening precisely because Renee doesn’t want to give up the ball and isn’t that great at creating for others.
  • The Sun wings (McCray, Greene, Hightower, White) were a combined 1-22 from the floor. Yikes.
  • This win took Minnesota to 6-0. Every WNBA team that’s started the regular season 6-0 has gone to the WNBA Finals. For what that’s worth.

 

Phoenix Mercury 66 @ San Antonio Silver Stars 85

  • More switches to the starting lineup for San Antonio, as Dan Hughes gave Shameka Christon her first start as a Silver Star in place of Shenise Johnson, and moved Jayne Appel in at center over Danielle Adams. It could’ve been to add extra size against Phoenix, who currently open with a big starting lineup, but it also felt like something of a statement. Adams’s fitness hasn’t let her survive for long in several games, so maybe she’d be better coming off the bench. And he needed to do something to try to get some vaguely worthwhile production out of Appel.
  • Phoenix continue to start Charde Houston in place of the injured Diana Taurasi.
  • Tangela Smith was out for San Antonio, after the announcement earlier in the day that she’d had arthroscopic surgery on her knee. Although she’d barely played in their early games anyway.
  • Both teams were running and firing early, with Becky Hammon in particular letting fly from long range. Candice Dupree, once again, was doing most of the scoring for Phoenix.
  • There were some weird defensive matchups early in this game. When you’re starting Hammon and Danielle Robinson at the guards, and Phoenix have Charde Houston as their theoretical shooting guard, you’re going to be scrambling a little. But San Antonio were going with the 5-9 Robinson on 6-4 DeWanna Bonner (and those listed heights might be generous to Robinson), allowing Christon to slide over onto Houston. It seemed to work though, as Bonner made little effort to take advantage of her significant size mismatch.
  • It caused some problems for Phoenix, because they wanted to cross-match into different pairings at the other end. And their defense is bad enough at the best of times.
  • The matchups got a little more standard when the reserves rotated in, and San Antonio led 44-37 at the half. Largely thanks to Hammon’s red-hot shooting from outside.
  • In the closing minutes of the third quarter, and opening stages of the fourth, San Antonio blew this game open and essentially killed it off. The Mercury had devolved into jacking jumpers, without much ball movement or transition speed in their offense. The Silver Stars raised their defensive intensity, went after the ball on the glass, and hit a few shots. That was all it took to turn a small lead into a 20-point chasm.
  • Sophia Young decided to show up in the second half as well, which helped.
  • Alexis Hornbuckle, on the other hand, was atrocious for Phoenix in the second half – and she only played the final 3:24 of the third quarter before being benched for the remainder of the game. Poor turnovers, bad shots, a complete lack of effort in recovering her own mistakes – it was embarrassing.
  • San Antonio themselves were a little too jump-shot heavy as the fourth quarter progressed, and with Hammon resting that wasn’t a great idea. Phoenix got back within 10, only for Hammon to come back out and nail consecutive triples. That killed it again. Becky was hot last night.
  • Same old story for Phoenix – defense that can’t stop anyone, and without Taurasi and Taylor they don’t have the firepower to compensate. Dupree finished with 17 points and 10 rebounds, while Bonner had 17 and 9. That sounds decent from DeWanna, but only 9 boards and shooting 4-16 in 38 minutes – when you’re being guarded by someone 8 inches shorter than you half the night – isn’t good enough.
  • Sam Prahalis had a lot of assists early, and finished with 9, as she continues to mature as a WNBA point guard. All the minutes she’s playing could pay off in future years when there’s more talent (and maybe a different coach) around her.
  • Hammon was ridiculous, shooting 9-14 (7-9 from behind the arc) for 30 points. We’ll gloss over the 8 turnovers. She only played 26 minutes, but she was the key factor in this game. Young finished 8-15 for 16 points and 10 boards, which is a hell of a lot more like what she needs to be producing for this team. Danielle Robinson had 11 assists – although many of them were of the “here Becky, shoot it” variety – and only 1 turnover. Phoenix may be grooming their new young point guard; San Antonio found theirs last year.
  • And how about Jayne Appel, ladies and gentlemen? 7 points (2-2 from the floor) and 11 rebounds! Admittedly it was against Phoenix, who aren’t exactly rolling out the most physical front-line in the WNBA, but that’s a start. Now just keep it up against real rebounders, Jayne.

 

Washington Mystics 63 @ Chicago Sky 65

  • This was not a game for fans of, well, excitement. Or offense. Unless you enjoy defense and bricks, I’d advise skipping to the last couple of minutes if you were intending to catch this via the archive.
  • Same starting fives began the game as these teams have used in recent games. Ticha Penicheiro remains unavailable to Chicago due to injury (and was wearing an extraordinary tuxedo-and-red-bow-tie ensemble on the sidelines. To say she was in ‘street clothes’ wouldn’t have remotely done it justice).
  • Both these teams are far more advanced in their defensive execution than they are when the ball’s actually in their own hands. And it showed. A lot.
  • 29-27 Chicago at halftime, both teams shooting under 40%. Consider yourselves apprised of all the highlights.
  • It got a little better in the second half, as Monique Currie, Crystal Langhorne and Noelle Quinn made a couple of shots for the Mystics, while Sylvia Fowles and Epiphanny Prince continued to be the only real offensive weapons for Chicago.
  • The Sky were shooting so poorly as a team that Washington built something of a lead without doing anything special offensively. With two minutes left in the game they were already up 58-50 when Natasha Lacy stole a pass and broke away for a layup that would’ve given them a double-digit advantage – only for Tamera Young to track her down and block the effort. It was a big play to keep the Sky’s hopes alive.
  • From there, it was the Epiphanny Prince show. A three in Langhorne’s face, a crazy spinning drive for an old-fashioned three-point play, a steal of a sideline inbounds pass that became a layup the other way (while being fouled), then another three with 33 seconds left to cut the score to 63-61. She was putting on an exhibition.
  • Matee Ajavon, who’d had a very, very quiet game, tried to go around a screen on the next possession, only to lose her handle on the ball and cough it up to Ruth Riley. The Chicago bigs show hard on on-ball screens, and it paid off handsomely on that crucial play. The initial pressure was applied by Tamera Young, who’s become Pokey Chatman’s go-to option when she needs someone to defend a perimeter player. Ajavon grabbed Riley to prevent the break-out, and Riley sank both free throws to tie the game with 25 seconds left.
  • Mystics head coach Trudi Lacey had called so many timeouts during the late minutes – sometimes seeming to cut into her own team’s momentum – that there were none left to call. Instead, Natasha Lacy pounded the ball out top for most of the shot clock, tried to drive to create something, then kicked the ball out somewhere in the vicinity of Quinn who couldn’t find the rim with a desperate heave. Chicago had 1.8 seconds left to create something themselves and save us all from overtime.
  • And that’s precisely what they did. Fowles set a screen for Prince on the baseline under the hoop, Washington switched (leaving Currie on Fowles rather than Langhorne), and Swin Cash managed to make an excellent inbounds pass over Michelle Snow, all the way to Big Syl in the paint. Fowles spun around Currie and dropped the ball in. Cue the confetti.
  • The refs actually put 0.2 seconds back on the clock, but in the women’s game that might as well be zero (seeing as you need a minimum of 0.3s to get off a proper shot, rather than a tip. And alley-oops aren’t exactly common in women’s basketball). It was even more pointless with the Mystics out of timeouts, and therefore unable to advance the ball to halfcourt. Chicago win, 65-63.
  • Trudi Lacey kept reminding people during the offseason that her team had lost a remarkable number of close games in 2011. The point she was trying to make was that they were this close to at least being a reasonable team, if they could just win a few of those close ones or discover a little more luck. The problem is, they’re still losing these close games, apart from the horrific Tulsa matchup last week where they crawled over the line by their fingernails. At some point, it’s not bad luck. It’s poor execution from players who either aren’t good enough, or aren’t prepared well enough beforehand. Or they’re being asked to run poorly drawn up plays. A loss is still a loss whether it’s by 1 or 31.
  • Down 8 with two minutes left, down 5 with 46 seconds left, there’s no way Chicago can have expected to pull this game out. But they did. The plaudits go to Prince, who finished with 31 points on 12-17 shooting (16 on 6-6 in the fourth quarter alone). The Sky offense, however, is still a work-in-progress (to be kind). While feeding Sylvia Fowles needs to be the focus, sometimes possessions grind to a halt while everyone watches her and waits to see if a passing lane will open up. There don’t seem to be a lot of options or alternatives besides trying to feed Syl for 20 seconds, or watching someone fire up a contested jump shot. Fortunately, Prince has been smoking hot to start the season, and bailed them out in this one.
  • Swin Cash, besides the great pass on the final bucket, had an ugly night. Shooting 1-13 for 2 points and 6 rebounds, she doesn’t seem to have quite settled on this team yet. She spends a lot of possessions waiting on the wing, without being particularly involved. She wasn’t by any means the first option in Seattle either, but she seemed a far bigger part of the gameplan than she has so far in Chicago. The Sky can’t expect to ride just Prince and Fowles all year long, and Cash is the most likely third option. They need to find ways to get her more involved.

 

Tulsa Shock 58@ Seattle Storm 76

  • Seattle made a change to their starting lineup, promoting Katie Smith in place of Tina Thompson. Tulsa stuck with the same five they’ve used recently.
  • It wasn’t a particularly pretty first half, and it stayed tight throughout. Seattle were keeping their turnovers in check, but it was partly as a result of making very few entry passes, and firing up a lot of outside jumpers. You’re naturally going to limit your turnovers if you never make a pass with any level of difficulty, and keep firing away from outside.
  • Maybe it was a result of having just watched Chicago – who trap the ball and rotate defensively on most screens, avoiding big-little switches – but Seattle seemed even more switch-heavy on screens than usual. Their bigs constantly ended up trying to handle Tulsa’s little guards, and those guards are so happy to attack that there was no time to switch back before the drive or shot.
  • But Tulsa weren’t actually making enough of those shots to cause too many problems.
  • Sue Bird, playing off the ball a hell of a lot to make her more of a scorer, and Camille Little – perhaps more comfortable as the definitive power forward in a lineup with Smith rather than Thompson – were the scorers for the Storm. Bird was hitting her jumpers, Little was making some inroads in the paint and getting to the line, and that was the Seattle offense. Tulsa countered with a few threes, and it was 36-35 Seattle at the break.
  • Seattle couldn’t get the ball in to center Ann Wauters in the first half, and it didn’t get any better in the second. Tulsa were doing everything they could to block the pass, and fighting it out with her down low, but this isn’t a strong Shock team in the interior. It’s a little worrying for the Storm that they couldn’t find a way to feed Wauters against a team they should be able to attack in the paint. Wauters doesn’t look totally comfortable on this team yet.
  • Just as it did earlier in San Antonio, the key stretch in this game came over the closing stages of the third quarter, and the opening minutes of the fourth. With a host of bench players in for most of the run – Thompson, Shekinna Stricklen, Ewelina Kobryn – the Storm put on a charge. Kobryn’s slightly greater mobility than Wauters seemed to help, and she found some of the same openings that Little had been exploiting. Thompson hit a couple of her trademark deep threes. Stricklen added some energy and perimeter size. And with a few shots dropping in, the Storm’s defense (and crowd) were energised and Tulsa’s scoring dried up. Suddenly nothing would fall for the Shock, and a narrow 48-45 Seattle advantage became 66-48 with under 7 minutes remaining. It was essentially over.
  • Tulsa looked tired in the closing minutes, and seemed to quit a little, which was disappointing considering the comebacks they’ve made in already this year. The emotion and momentum that Seattle managed to build in that run knocked the wind out of them for the rest of the night.
  • Over the course of the game, Bird and Little were the Storm’s stars. Bird finished 9-15 for 27 points (5-7 from three-point range) and threw in a couple of ridiculous buzzer beaters to add to her highlight reel. It was good to see the old Birdy back after her slow start to the year, even if they had to basically move her to shooting guard to find it. Little was only 4-8 from the field but added 10-12 at the free throw line for a total of 19 points and 9 rebounds. The addition of an extra passer in Smith, over a scorer and semi-post player like Thompson, definitely aided her production.
  • However, while Bird and Little were the mainstays, it was a rare pleasure to see Brian Agler’s bench playing a key role in the Storm’s performance and victory. Maybe it’ll give him more confidence to actually use his reserves and let the starters rest a little in future games. Next up for Seattle is LA – yet again – so we’ll see.
  • One to forget for the Shock, who rather capitulated in the second half. Their trio of attacking guards – Temeka Johnson, Ivory Latta and Riquna Williams – went a combined 8-33, and they won’t win many games when that happens. Their ball-denial on Seattle’s attempts to find Wauters was impressive though, especially for a team without a real post presence.

 

Notes

As mentioned above, San Antonio’s Tangela Smith has had arthroscopic surgery on her left knee, and is out ‘indefinitely’. Any kind of surgery, especially to a knee, usually means at least a month out, so she’s probably done until after the Olympic break. She’s barely been used so far this season, possibly because she was already carrying the injury that was ultimately operated on.

Indiana Fever point guard Erin Phillips will join up with the Australian National Team for their training camp and practice games in Europe next week. She’s expected to miss three Fever games, on the 8th, 15th and 16th of June. With their point guards playing so much off the ball this year, the Fever should be able to cope. Considering other Aussies have skipped the entire first half of this season, they’ll be happy that they’re only losing Phillips for three games.

 

Upcoming Games

Tonight (Saturday June 2nd):

New York @ Indiana 7pm ET

Chicago @ Atlanta, 7pm ET

—–

Tomorrow (Sunday June 3rd):

Washington @ Connecticut, 3pm ET

Indiana @ New York, 6pm ET

Tulsa @ Phoenix, 6pm ET

San Antonio @ Minnesota, 7pm ET

Seattle @ Los Angeles, 8.30pm ET

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One comment on “WNBA Today, 06/02/2012: Four times the fun

  1. Patrick says:

    I had the same feeling going in to the game about the interior advantage the Storm should have. I kept screaming for them to throw it into the post. When they continued to ignore it, I paid closer attention. The interior play from Tulsa was about Klopp. It wasn’t skill/talent, it was good, old fashioned, smart, physical play. Tulsa used every trick in the book…I thought Lacy was particularly good at doing a lot of illegal stuff well below the radar of the officials who were a bit below normal WNBA referee standards…if only you could hear my tone, the dripping sarcasm would be more evident. Wauters and Thompson were both visibly frustrated. I watched Tulsa put hands and entire forearms on Wauters to hold her down from grabbing offensive rebounds. It was pretty egregious. However, to be fair, the Storm guards were hacking like it was going out of style and Thompson was demonstrating she knows how to get dirty as well, and the refs didn’t call that either. We seem to have a LOT more defense in the league right now…I love it as a coach, I fear it as a fan. I suspect scoring is going to drop.

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